AKRON — NorthWood appeared to be on the way to a sweep of Wawasee in the championship match of the IHSAA Class 3A Tippecanoe Valley Sectional volleyball tournament.
But not so fast.
After the Panthers won sets 1 and 2 (25-20 and 26-24), the Warriors took sets 3 and 4 (25-22 and 25-23), forcing a decisive set 5.
NorthWood won that set 15-12 to take its second-straight sectional title and 22nd in program history.
Saturday marked the third time in 2020 that the two Northern Lakes Conference foes squared off.
The Panthers won 2-0 (25-23, 25-17) at the Bremen Invitational Sept. 26 and 3-0 (25-1, 25-23, 25-21) in an NLC match in Nappanee Oct. 8.
NorthWood coach Hilary Laidig talked about the poise her veteran-filled squad showed in withstanding Wawasee.
“It’s a group of really competitive girls,” Laidig said. “In practice, we do a lot of competitive drills where the pressure’s on and they’re comfortable.
“They really believe they’re going to pull it off since that senior leadership is so good.”
Two of those seniors were Ali Knepp and Alea Minnich. Both talked about what helped the Panthers prevail.
“We just had to rely on our teammates and communicate," Knepp said. "We’ve been in situations like this where we’ve been down. We just have to remain with a positive attitude and play how we know how to play.
“Having a lot of seniors (including Knepp, Minnich, Sadie Beasy, Halle DeMien, Ali Dutkowski, Ella Gongwer, Alana Lehman, Kennedy Hochstetler, Kendal Miller and Bre Wise) makes it easy to have a lot of team chemistry.”
Knepp said NorthWood attackers and setters did their best to contend with Wawasee’s strong blockers.
Minnich spoke about what it took for her squad to hold up to the Warriors’ rally.
“Once we realized that Wawasee was not letting down and we were making errors to keep those sets going that we needed to compose ourselves by taking a deep breath," Minnich said. “When they were leading the sets, we were laying back. When we were the aggressors we really started to hit them hard.”
With seniors Emma Dippon, Delaney Hare, Bailey Mayhew among the many contributors, the Warriors (22-12) were up 21-18 in set two, only to have NorthWood come back to take it.
“That’s a heartbreaker to give up that set,” said Wawasee coach Jeff Phillips, whose team was looking for the program’s first sectional crown since 1995. “I was super proud of us that we came back and won sets 3 and 4.
“A lot of times when you do that, you exert so much energy to tie the match back up that you end up losing (the fifth set) 15-5 or something like that.”
The Panthers were up 13-9 in set five and the Warriors cut the lead to 13-12 before NorthWood closed it out.
Phillips said his team’s blocking was not at its best at the beginning of Saturday’s semifinals.
“We made an adjustment and it was not only better at the end of the Lakeland match, but also (against NorthWood),” Phillips said. “We made them work for points.
“We did all the things we were trying to do when we got here. They just made a couple more plays than we did.”
In Saturday’s semifinals, NorthWood topped Tippecanoe Valley 3-0 (25-20, 25-12, 25-11) and Wawasee bested Lakeland 3-1 (25-22, 15-25, 30-28, 26-24).
By winning the sectional, NorthWood advanced to the Norwell Regional on Saturday, Oct. 24. The first semifinal features NorthWood (26-7) against Bellmont (21-4) at 10 a.m., followed by Fort Wayne Dwenger (29-2) vs. Eastern (22-13). The championship is slated for 7 p.m.
Other seniors on the Wawasee tournament roster were Corin Nyce and Ava Rush.
3A TIPPECANOE VALLEY SECTIONAL
NORTHWOOD def. WAWASEE 25-20, 26-24, 22-25, 23-25, 15-12
NorthWood: Aces — Kendal Miller 2, Annika Bennett 1, Ali Knepp 1, Macy Lengacher 1, Bre Wise 1. Assists — Miller 56, Bennett 8. Kills — Alea Minnich 18, Alana Lehman 17, Bennett 13, Knepp 10. Blocks — Wise 4, Lehman 3. Digs — Lengcher 29, Knepp 28, Miller 22, Kennedy Hochstetler 19.
Wawasee: Aces — Bailey Mayhew 3, Kai Jamora 2, Amanda Allen 1. Assists — Allen 57, Jamora 1, Leslie Vazquez 1. Kills — Emma Dippon 22, Mayhew 13, Vazquez 13, Dylan Konieczny 13. Blocks — Mayhew 7, Vazquez 5, Allen 4, Amber Beer 4. Digs — Elizabeth Miller 21, Mayhew 17, Vazquez 17, Allen 13.
Records: NorthWood 26-7, Wawasee 22-12.