New Palestine’s Allison Dennemann and her teammates told themselves it was a just a matter of staying positive, but even with all the momentum rushing in their favor, this one would be tough.
Despite a 2-1 set advantage, Class 3A No. 7 New Pal (26-10) trailed 11-5 in the fourth set on the road against Cardinal Ritter (24-10) and could feel the momentum slipping, playing right in front of a boisterous Raiders student section with the program’s first regional championship title on the line.
Again, a tough one.
But the Dragons never folded and fought back to a 27-25 win in the decisive fourth set, claiming a 3-1 victory over the Raiders to become the first New Pal volleyball team to advance to the semistate round.
“I knew that we could inch our way back, but to have a hole that big, that’s hard to do, especially against teams like them,” New Pal coach Kelli Whitaker said. “You can’t do that to yourselves, so that was just amazing to inch back slowly but surely.
“Just so much emotion has gone into this. I could cry just sitting here talking because I’m just so happy for my girls. It’s tears of joy.”
The Dragons swung first in the four-set duel, winning 25-15 in the opening set before switching sides and playing in front of the Ritter student section. The Raiders fed off early energy from the fans and quashed a late comeback from the Dragons, evening the score with a 25-22 win in the second.
After zipping back to a 2-1 advantage with a 25-13 win in the third set, the Dragons once more found themselves in front of the Ritter students, who Whitaker said “never let up” on supplying a tough playing atmosphere.
Only, neither did the Dragons.
Dennemann, a junior outside hitter, helped keep things close with a few kills down the stretch while senior Kara Morris enabled several more lasers with brilliant setting, even sometimes catching the Raiders off guard with a quick hit over the net.
“They’ve got some hitters that are just really exceptional,” Ritter coach Catie Triplet said. “They are a better team and they won tonight. They had a better game than we did.”
The Dragons, coming off their first sectional championship in 27 years, will face Northview (30-7) at 12:30 p.m. Saturday in Jasper.
“It’s kind of surreal how we’ve never won regionals,” Dennemann said. “We’re just trying not to get a big head because of the history, but we’re definitely trying to stay focused and look to our next goal. Never Be Satisfied is our motto.”
Follow IndyStar reporter Jordan J. Wilson on Twitter: @Wilsonable07. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.