Tears streamed down the faces of the Brownstown Central volleyball players after Saturday’s semistate match.
Though they weren’t for sadness, but for joy after the Braves battered the Class 3A No. 1 Evansville Memorial Tigers in straight sets (25-20, 25-20, 25-10) to secure a spot in the state finals.
Brownstown Central coach Jennifer Shade said her team has put in so much work to try and earn their goals this year they couldn’t help but shed some tears.
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"This was a goal we set at the beginning of the season," she said. "That’s why you see tears fall, because every time we’ve accomplished a goal we hit a milestone.”
A 12-1 run in the third set allowed the Braves to pull away for good against the Tigers.
It was fitting that run occurred while Keeli Darlage was serving.
The senior, who celebrated her birthday with a berth to state, had four aces during the run and helped completely deny any chance of an Evansville comeback.
That final stretch of expert serving helped put a string of poor serves behind the Braves, who were overcome with nerves at points and either put the ball into the net or out of play.
“Missed serves are nerves," Shade explained. "We expected a little bit of that, but when Keeli went on that run, that run of serves gave us the confidence just to put them away.”
The run also let Brownstown Central savor the moment of making state just a little bit more.
Double-digit runs were non-existent except for that final stretch by the Braves, making the first two sets of Saturday’s showdown incredibly tense.
The Braves fought through their early nerves and built leads of five and six points before the Tigers were able to surge back.
Yet, most of those Tiger runs were due to BC errors according to Shade and setter Reagan Nuss.
Nuss, who Shade trusts with a lot of decision making, said being able to close out Evansville Memorial the way they did was a big deal.
"We’ve talked about how we’d get up five points and then we’d just start laying down," she said. "Keeli got up there and we just kept staying up.”
Darlage led the Braves with five aces and also added 13 kills.
Shade has pointed out before that third set lulls have been an Achilles heel, but that wasn’t the case in Jasper.
The victory marks the eighth different Brave volleyball team to head to the state title match.
At the helm of each of those has been Shade, and she remarked that each team has its own qualities that make them special.
"It’s hard to compare because it’s just so special with every team and the game’s changed so much over the years that every team has their own special thing," she said. "This group’s special quality is that we have 12 good volleyball players on our team, we’re not just role players. So, if you stop one, you’ll have to stop another one.”
Another thing that’s different about this trip to state is the Braves’ opponent.
They won’t have to deal with perennial power Muncie Burris, but instead will battle Bellmont at 3 p.m. at Ball State’s Worthen Arena.
Confidence may be in abundance around the Brave program having already defeated Bellmont, 2-0, at the Carmel Invite in late September.
However, that’s not the only reason they should feel confident as they’ve also not dropped a set during this postseason. Only Heritage Christian and Cowan have also achieved that feat.
A win this Saturday would not only deliver the Braves their first volleyball state title, but also the school’s first team state title in any sport.
“This is just amazing," Reagan Nuss said of winning semistate. "We now have the opportunity to be the first team in history to win a team state title at Brownstown Central. I feel like we can do it.”
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Brownstown Central’s 2019 Semistate Championship Roster
Seniors: Halle Hehman, Addie Wilkerson, Keeli Darlage, Riley Nuss.
Juniors: Myka Keltz, Jennifer Pence, Kendra McCory, Kayla Guthrie.
Sophomores: Reagan Nuss, Zoe Stuckwisch, Erin Singleton, Kelsey Wischmeier.