Cougars battle but fall short of first state title



They weren’t going down without a fight.

Staring down an 0-2 deficit against Cowan, it could have been easy for the Trinity Lutheran volleyball team to pack it in and call it a match. However, giving up isn’t in the Cougars’ DNA as they fought back to win the next two sets behind their stalwart hitters and expert serving.  

Still, the Cougars weren’t able to overcome the Blackhawks in the final set, losing it 15-5 and the match 3-2, finishing their season as state runners-up for the second time in program history. 

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Trinity Lutheran coach Faith Wilder-Newland stated she was proud of the way her girls fought. 

“A lot of teams would have just folded tents after we went down 0-2, but they battled back every bit of the way," Wilder-Newland said. "You can’t always guarantee the result and you just have to give everything you have.

"That’s what they did and they have nothing to be ashamed of.”

Despite the season not ending the way she wanted, lone senior Hannah Sabotin was proud of the way her and the Cougars battled to the last point and left it all on the court. 

“I’m so proud that we fought back and we did not let them go out easy," she said. "We made them fight back against us.”

Sabotin, who will play volleyball next year at the University of Indianapolis, won the Indiana High School Athletic Association’s Mental Attitude Award.

She’s the first recipient of the award from Trinity Lutheran High School.

Along with junior Kennedy Hoffman, Sabotin led the Cougars with 12 kills against a tough Cowan front line that seemed to be ready for whatever was thrown their way.

The first set foreshadowed the five-set thriller as Cowan fought back from a Cougar set point to win it 30-28. 

There were 17 ties and six lead changes in the marathon first set — the most in each category for the match. 

Dropping the opening stanza may have played a factor in the Cougars losing set two, 25-19. 

Wilder-Newland said the mental drain had a little to do with it, but that the Blackhawks did a better job keeping Trinity Lutheran on their toes.

“Their outside hitters were just moving the ball around really well and our ball control was slipping a bit in the second set," Wilder-Newland explained. "We weren’t passing the ball up where we could set all the sets that we wanted to and, I think, our ball control broke down a little bit.”

Cowan did most of their second-set damage with their serves, forcing many Cougar receiving errors. 

Trinity Lutheran committed 19 reception errors in the match compared to just nine for Cowan.

However, in sets two and three, it was the Cougars’ turn to put Cowan’s backs against the wall.

With each point won, the Cougars started regaining their mojo and taking it to a Cowan team that looked lost during parts of the third and fourth sets. 

Cowan very nearly came back from a five-point deficit in the fourth to take the match, but the Cougars were able to gut it out and stand firm.

While Sabotin said the team achieved its goal of making it to state, she noted the feelings they have in defeat will only help motivate the Cougars next year.

“Motivation for next year," she said. "Make it back to this but win it next time.”

With one exception, the Cougars will return every member of their state runner-up team.

Returning such state-caliber experience isn’t always common and the Cougars will benefit from it in 2020.

Wilder-Newland hopes her girls remember what getting this close and coming up short feels like so they can use it as fuel during the offseason.

“It makes all of those early morning practices in the summer worth it and it also reflects how important they are," she said. "It just shows how it is a long journey and it shows how you have to do all of the early work just to get here.”

But she does know how difficult it will be to replace a player of Sabotin’s caliber.

Calling it a dream season for her, Wilder-Newland said her winning the mental attitude award was a nice consolation prize.

"She has worked so hard, she is so mature, so much of a good leader, so much of a good student that I’m super proud of her,” Wilder-Newland said.

With her high school career over, Sabotin said it’ll be tough for her to be without this team going forward. 

"This season has meant the world to me; these players and these coaches are my family and we all have each other’s backs,” she said. “Our goal from the start was to make it to state and that’s what we accomplished."

In addition to Hoffman and Sabotin’s kills, they were also paced in the attacking department by Sydney Jaynes’ 10. 

Bailey Reynolds had 31 assists and two serve aces, and Hoffman and Ruthie Bingham also had two aces. Libero Kamzi Gross had a team best 26 digs while Reynolds and Elly Carter also had double-digit digs with 15 and 10, respectively.

Trinity Lutheran finishes the year 30-6.

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