Simply looking at the stats would tell there was no other team playing at Saturday’s state finals with more sustained success over the years than the Brownstown Central Braves.
Of the eight volleyball teams suiting up at Ball State’s Worthen Arena in Muncie with the hopes of winning a state title, no team had made it to that point more than the Braves.
Yet, Saturday’s state appearance was Brownstown Central’s first in a decade. With the exception of the two first-time teams — Heritage Christian and Hamilton Southeastern — the Braves’ state finals drought was the longest of any competitor.
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Ending droughts might be the principle theme among many for the 2019 Brownstown Central team.
No member of the squad had ever won a sectional title, let alone a state championship.
At the beginning of the season, talent alone may have suggested the Braves were destined for bigger and better things than another Mid-Southern Conference and sectional title.
But winning state championships takes more than just talent. It takes belief, and the Braves’ coaching staff had that in their players since the spring.
“We were told in April that we were going to be state champs,” senior Keeli Darlage said. “That meant a lot to us, and some of us didn’t believe it … and [coach Jennifer Shade] saying that made us push ourselves to get better every day.”
They’ll have to continue to keep getting better going forward because when the next season starts, they’ll have targets on their backs as defending state champions.
Winning Saturday’s 3A state title may have also jump-started another string of successive state appearances for the Braves.
The last time they ended a state appearance drought, they made it back to state 10 of the next 12 seasons. The Braves had made it to state in 1983 but failed to return until 1998 in Class 2A. They were runners-up seven times during those 10 appearances.
BC stands to return a ton of talent to next year’s team in the top kills getter in Kendra McCory (333) as well as outside hitters Jennifer Pence and Kayla Guthrie, who also scored triple-digit kills this year.
They’ll also bring back the mastermind behind setting up all of those attacks in setter Reagan Nuss, who finishes the year with 863 assists.
Yet, they know they’ll be hard-pressed to replace such talent their senior class provided this year.
Addie Wilkerson and Keeli Darlage provided so much consistent and stable attacking prowess up front, each earning well more than 200 kills this year.
On the back end, libero Riley Nuss and defensive specialist Halle Hehman were two of four Brave players to record triple-digit digs this year. Riley Nuss led them all with 532.
But the Braves won’t be the only team hoping to continue a new stretch of top-level play.
Just across the way on U.S. 50, the Trinity Lutheran Cougars will bring back all but one of their players for another shot at a state title in 2020.
While the loss of senior Hannah Sabotin will be tough to overcome, the Cougars showed they have the might to storm back with a vengeance.
And, of course, nothing motivates more than coming so close to a state title only to come up short.
Just ask the Braves, who have come closer than any other team in the state and finally got what they deserved Saturday.