Providence senior setter Lexie Libs celebrates with her teammates after a win over New Albany earlier this season.
Postseason success has become a recurring theme for Providence’s volleyball program.
Winners of three consecutive state titles, the Pioneers boast a postseason win streak of 26, and are set to appear in their fifth straight championship match – marking the third instance in state history.
Riding waves of college-level talent, Providence has compiled a 140-15 record in the past four seasons. The Pioneers, with six varsity newcomers and several first-year coaches, are 34-5 this year behind the leadership of senior setter Lexie Libs and junior outside hitter Marissa Hornung, two of the team’s four returning starters.
Libs and Hornung, along with seniors Mia Fougerousse and Cheyenne Brooks, have had their roles reversed this season, transitioning from mentored to mentor, which has been challenging for a bunch who is unfamiliar with “any other outcome” aside from a state title, per their head coach Terri Purichia.
The shift for Libs and Hornung, though, has been eased by guidance they received from some familiar faces as younger players, allowing the duo to pass on the program’s family tradition – both literally and figuratively.
“My freshman year, I had my sister (on the team),” Libs said, “and Marissa’s freshman year she had hers up here, so as an upperclassman, I personally try to make the younger classmen feel as if I’m their sister. … It really creates a family atmosphere.”
Libs won her first of three state titles in 2013 with her sister, Haley, who was a senior at the time, and Hornung shared both her state championship victories with her sister, Jacquie, who graduated a member of all three title-winning teams.
“We’ve had really good mentoring from the older girls. … We had siblings on the team,” Hornung said. “It was easier for us to interact with them, but we always say we have tradition in the program. What they passed down to us was easy for us to pass down to them because of how good of a job we did with it. Everyone that comes into the program is so easy to get along with, so they listen to it.”
Providence’s Marissa Hornung goes to serve during last year’s state final at Worthen Arena, a 3-0 win for the Pioneers.
Patience was a necessity early on for the Pioneers’ elder leaders, and balance became the duo’s No. 1 priority as the season went on, according to Purichia. Three of Providence’s five losses came in its first seven games this season, but the Pioneers responded by winning 30 of their next 32.
“It was hard for them, because there’s always been someone else to do that part,” Purichia said, “so they never had to feel like they were the bad guy. But we just tried to explain to them, many times this season when they were feeling frustrated, ‘Being a leader doesn’t mean you’re the bad guy. You have to set your expectations and they’re going to come to them.’
“I do feel like we have that balance now. They understand what to say and how to say it to get the most out of their kids.”
Libs and Hornung’s effective leadership has translated to individual success, too, with both improving upon team-high stats from a season ago. Libs has tallied 1,175 assists this season, good for fourth in the state. Hornung’s 467 kills and 482 digs – up from 335 – are both team highs. She’s recorded three more kills than last season on 54 fewer attempts.
Fougerousse and Brooks, role players in 2015, have stepped up admirably for the Pioneers, posting 227 kills and a team-high 56 aces, respectively. Freshman Courtney Glotzbach is second on the team with 344 kills. Hanna Mitchell, a sophomore, has 205 kills.
Libs, an East Tennessee State commit, and Hornung, a Purdue pledge, add to the list of Division I players to come through Providence during its string of state-title runs. That overlapping talent, per Purichia, is the root of the Pioneers’ success.
“We’ve just finally had the right mix of talent, work ethic, coachability, leadership – all of that together is like the perfect storm,” Purichia said, “and you’re seeing what it’s been able to produce. … They’ve just put in a tremendous amount of time, effort, energy and dedication into getting where they are and being what they are.”
Providence’s young weapons will be tested Saturday in the Class 3A state championship – a rematch of last year’s final between the No. 2 Pioneers and top-ranked Yorktown.
It’s familiar territory for Libs and Hornung, now it’s their job to pass on the tradition.
“A lot of these kids don’t have a state championship, and a lot of our coaching staff doesn’t have any state championship rings or wins,” Libs said. “So I want to win this, not only for myself, but for them.”