Minimizing mistakes key in Cougars’ second state appearance


Junior setter Bailey Reynolds remembers watching the 2011 Trinity Lutheran volleyball team at state.

Still in elementary school at the time, Reynolds can recall players like Emma Franke and Sarah Stuckwisch leading the Cougars to a runner-up finish that year and hoping to one day do the same. 

Fast forward to now and those same players Reynolds grew up watching are now coming to see her and the 2019 edition of Trinity Lutheran volleyball play in Saturday’s state championship game at Ball State University’s Worthen Arena in Muncie. 

“I remember watching them because my sister was just coming into high school as they were just leaving high school," she said. "I remember going to watch them play, and now, they’re coming to watch me play. It just means a lot.”

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Reynolds is one of four juniors on the team hoping to lead the Cougars to not just the program’s first state championship but also the school’s first state title in any sport. 

The 2011 team came close but fell to Wes-Del in three sets. 

To finish the season on top, the Cougars will need to take down Class A second-ranked Cowan, which is making its ninth appearance in the state finals and first since a 2012 state championship year. 

During their run, the Blackhawks have yet to drop a set in the tournament and downed No. 8 Covington and No. 6 Morgan Township to secure their spot in state. The top-ranked Cougars defeated three straight top-10 opponents — No. 4 Loogootee, No. 5 Springs Valley and No. 10 Bloomfield — to get back to state.

They only dropped a set against Loogootee. 

Worthen Arena will be one of the largest gyms either team will have played in this season, and the atmosphere of the day can be stressful if not prepared.

On Tuesday, members of the 2011 Trinity Lutheran team came and spoke with this year’s team to offer their support and advice on how they should handle the day.

Many of them reminded the girls that it’s still the same game, but they’re just in a different place. 

That message resonated with the team, and it’s one coach Faith Wilder-Newland has tried to drive home all week. During her time at Columbus East, she took the Olympians to the state finals in 1992 and 2003. 

“It’s important, even though it is a big week, to keep the routine the same and not change that because of where we’re going," she said. "I want it to feel the same because it’s the same game, same lines, same rules, same height of the net.”

One thing the Cougars hope to change from last week’s semistate game against Bloomfield is their first-set jitters. 

Both Wilder-Newland and senior Hannah Sabotin admitted it took a minute before they were able to settle down and get into their groove.

While nerves won’t be completely avoidable, it’s important for them to minimize them as much as possible against a Cowan team which like Trinity Lutheran hasn’t lost to a Class A opponent all year.

Wilder-Newland explains the best thing her team can do early on is not come out guns blazing. She felt they came out too hard and fast against Bloomfield and hit the ball straight into the Cardinals’ block.

“We need to have more finesse and communicate a little bit more about where the blockers are," she said. "We were just trying to blast it, and we also had a few too many missed serves. We just need to hit with more finesse.”

When the Cougars get down, Reynolds said they have a simple exercise to calm themselves down and get their minds right.

“In between timeouts, we have this this little moment where we all get together and take deep breaths in and out and talk to each other as much as we can," she said. "We keep each other calm. It’s not so much, ‘How do I keep myself calm?’ It’s how do we keep each other calm?”

Much like Trinity, the Blackhawks are a team that relies a lot on their underclass players. While the Cougars are led by Sabotin, their lone senior, who ranks among the state’s best with a hitting percentage of .431, Cowan is led by a junior in almost every statistical category.  

A trio of juniors have more than 230 kills with Martina Demarchi leading the way with 318. She also has a team-high 112 serve aces. 

Gracie Conway has 37 total blocks, and five Blackhawk players have double-digit blocks this year. 

Sophomore Emma Clark, the team’s setter, is the only non-junior to lead a stats category with 619 assists. 

Both teams having such success without a lot of seniors means they are built for long-term success. 

It wouldn’t be foolish to think these teams could make another deep tournament run the following year, and that’s because of their excellent underclass players.

For Trinity, many of their sophomores and juniors have had to shoulder the varsity load since they started playing high school volleyball. 

“Our junior class has really provided a lot of stability. They perform a lot like seniors and have pretty much had to carry the load since they were freshmen,” Wilder-Newland. "They’re rock solid, and they tend to play their game well."

But no one is thinking about next year right now. They’re focusing on Saturday and what they need to do to come back home with a state championship. 

For Trinity to do that, Wilder-Newland said her girls will need to keep up all of the passion and zeal they’ve played with all season long.

“I think it’s just the enthusiasm," she said. "Once they relax and start clicking, the momentum they get from that is just amazing."

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What: 2019 IHSAA volleyball state finals

When: Class A, 11 a.m. | Class 3A, 3 p.m. 

Who: Trinity Lutheran vs. Cowan, Brownstown Central vs. Bellmont 

Admission: $12 per person, free for 5 and under

Parking: $5

Radio: 96.3 WJAA

Television: Fox Sports Indiana


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