Bella Pavey and Carlea Handley had some sage advice Tuesday night.
The Patriots have nothing to lose, the Union County captains told their teammates. Go out and give everything.
“Just play to our potential,” Pavey said.
The Patriots certainly did.
Union County claimed a Class 2A regional volleyball championship in impressive fashion, sweeping second-ranked Heritage Christian 25-17, 25-19, 25-23.
The Patriots advance to Saturday’s semistate at Forest Park, and will face Evansville Mater Dei at 11 a.m.
Speedway meets Providence in the other semistate semifinal. The championship is at 7 p.m.
“It’s amazing. It is just so nice. I can’t even explain the feeling,” UC senior Taylor Cruse said of winning a regional title, the program’s sixth overall and first since 2011.
Pavey and Handley were starters on the 2011 team that halted Park Tudor in five in Liberty.
Pavey said the 2011 regional experience was a plus — and served as motivation to put Tuesday’s match away quickly.
“We struggled our freshman year with keeping momentum. We ended up going to a fifth set and past 25,” she said. “We were just like, ‘Let’s try and get this game done early.'”
That’s been a trademark of the Patriots’ postseason.
Union County won all three of its sectional matches 3-0, and the Patriots carried that momentum right into Tuesday’s Game 1. They surged ahead 10-4 with Lauren Lester serving five straight points for the Patriots.
UC led by as many as nine that game, and the Patriots continued to roll in Game 2, building a comfortable advantage then, too.
“We came in with a lot of intensity,” said UC coach Chris Wiederhold. “Just like in the sectionals, tonight was a good night.
“Tonight was probably the best ball we played all season.”
Heritage Christian (22-9) didn’t back down, growing its lead to five in Game 3.
Didn’t matter to the Patriots. A kill by Allison Kassens swung momentum back in Union County’s favor, and Handley and Cruse each had extended time from the service line to put the Patriots back on top.
The pesky Eagles kept it close, tying it 20-20, but Kassens again delivered a well-timed kill and the Patriots were on the way to electrifying their large home crowd by hoisting the regional trophy.
“We love all of our fans,” Pavey said. “It’s just awesome to see how many people will just come in and watch in such a small town and make us feel like they care about us in this town.”
Pavey finished with 32 assists and had two aces, while Handley added 17 kills and Kassens finished with 16 kills and 10 digs.
Lester had 11 digs for Union County (26-10), and Ella Dils contributed four kills and two blocks.
“Everybody had key plays that made the big difference,” Wiederhold said. “That was what did it for us.
“It came down to momentum sticking with us with those key plays, and it equaled to big success for us.”
Added Cruse: “It means so much to me to play with my team. I love them so much. I couldn’t ask for a better group to win with.”
The winner of Saturday’s semistate at Forest Park moves on to the state championship match Nov. 9 at Worthen Arena on Ball State’s campus in Muncie.
Providence is ranked No. 1 and Speedway No. 3. Evansville Mater Dei is unranked, while the Patriots received votes and were just outside the top 10 of the final Class 2A state poll.
Providence was the state runner-up in 2012.
“I thought (winning) sectionals felt good, but this is amazing,” Wiederhold said. “I told the girls after the game, ‘And then there were eight.'”