Braves claim first volleyball state title



Back in April, Brownstown Central volleyball coach Jennifer Shade told her girls they would be state champions.

“When coach Shade and [assistant coach Paige Wheeler] told us we’d be state champions, we thought they were joking,” senior Halle Hehman said.

Fast forward seven months and Shade’s prophecy came true.

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Swinging momentum in their favor for good after taking a never-ending third set 34-32, the Braves downed the Bellmont Squaws 3-1 to claim the program’s first state championship in 12 tries. It’s also Brownstown Central High School’s first team state title in any sport.

Once down by as many as three points in the third set, the Braves battled back to tie it at 24 and force a Squaws timeout.

From there, neither team was willing to concede an inch.

The marathon third set saw 15 ties and nine lead changes — far and away the most of any set in the championship game — before the Braves were finally able to string together three consecutive points to take the stanza. Bellmont had a chance to win the set at 31-30, but were unable to capitalize. Had they been able to clinch the set, the state title could have very well headed back to Decatur instead of Brownstown.

“We were lucky to win that one,” Shade said. “The girls came from behind and put up such a fight and didn’t quit. That says a lot for what their goal was for the season, which was the mental aspect of the game and they showed that they had it.”

Once the ball fell on Bellmont’s side of the court in the third set, Shade stated she felt like her girls had already won the title.

“I felt like after we won that set, the momentum was on our side,” she said. “As long as we could keep a three- or four-point lead, we could work our way to 25.”

It was hard work to get to 25 in the final set with Bellmont seemingly getting their hands on every single ball that came their way.

Their defensive work was a far cry from how their first meeting went back in September when the Braves won 2-0 at the Carmel Invite. Shade, Hehman and Keeli Darlage praised the Squaws’ defense and said they were much tougher to put down the second time around.

“They touched every ball,” Darlage said. “Their libero was very aggressive, picked up a lot of balls and their block was hard to hit around.

“We had to get them on the transition,” she continued. “That’s how [Jennifer Pence] scored and Kendra [McCory] scored a lot of the balls because she’s a lot faster in the middle.”

Brownstown Central’s quickness and athleticism ended up carrying them home not just in the final set, but also throughout the match.

Shade speaks often about playing with adrenaline and, in the first 10 points of each match, it takes over. Once teams settle in, the better team typically prevails, she said.

On Saturday, both teams appeared to play with adrenaline for four sets.

Keeping themselves calm and in the moment was just as tough, if not more difficult, for the Braves with the prospect of a state championship just within their grasp.

“We felt out of shape in those first 10 to 15 points,” Shade said. “You have to convince yourself that this is just another game, and once we settled in, our passing got a little better and we were more precise.”

When the ball fell on Bellmont’s side one last time, the Braves were able to unsettle themselves and celebrate something they had never thought was going to be a reality.

No player for the Braves had ever experienced winning a sectional title let alone a state championship.

Taking home hardware is tough to put into words when it’s a whole new world.

“Honestly, I don’t really know how to feel,” Hehman said.

After a moment, she was able to describe the emotion.

“It’s an amazing feeling,” she continued. “I’m so glad we could do this for everyone in our community and everyone that was on our bandwagon.”

Many of the players reflected on how much the team feels less like a group and more like a family.

The motto for the Braves this season was, “Throwing it back to the good old days,” and Shade said she was working hard to get many of the former players involved with the team. She says having the support of the former players, fans and the community helped put them over the top after so many years of coming close.

For Darlage, having the coaches push the players as hard as they did and believe in them as much as they did meant everything.

“We couldn’t have done this without our coaches,” she said. “Everyone is so close that it means the world to do this and it’s just a dream.”

Darlage had just eight kills for the Braves on Saturday, but had 34 serve receptions without an error.

McCory led the Braves with 22 kills, while Addie Wilkerson added 14. Most of their kills came through the middle, which has been the bread and butter for the BC offense this season.

Junior Kayla Guthrie also had double-digit kills for the Braves with 10.

BC’s 60 team kills is the most in a four-set Class 3A state championship game as is their 55 team assists.

Reagan Nuss had 47 assists and tied with older sister Riley Nuss for the team-high in serve aces with three. Riley Nuss had a team-best 22 digs and was one of five players with double-digit digs.

Their 87 team digs is also the most in a four-set state championship match regardless of class.

The Braves finish the year on top for the first time ever and with a 33-5 record.

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Brownstown Central’s 2019 State 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.


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