CENTERVILLE — For the past two years, the Tippecanoe volleyball team had run into a hurdle it couldn’t clear — the regional semifinal round.
Thursday, the Red Devils showed just how good they are this season.
“That’s a very good team, and we made them look average,” Tippecanoe coach Howard Garcia said. “That tells you the type of team we have.”
Tippecanoe scored six of the last eight points to claim the first set and cruised from there, only trailing once by one point the rest of the way but erasing that deficit quickly and putting away an impressive 25-20, 25-18, 25-16 sweep of Bishop Fenwick in the Division II regional semifinal round Thursday night at Centerville High School.
Tippecanoe, which finished the season ranked No. 6 in the state’s final D-II poll, improved to 26-0 and advanced to Saturday’s regional final, where it will face Roger Bacon — the team that knocked the Devils out in last year’s regional semifinal. Fenwick, meanwhile, finished the season 16-8.
“We talked about our legacy. Our legacy was being one of the top teams in the state, one of the top teams in our conference — that’s very evident,”Garcia said. “It’s evident that we’ve been at the regional the last three years. But we wanted to improve our legacy, make a difference. And you saw that happen tonight.”
The Devils have reached the regional semifinal three consecutive seasons and four times in the last six years, with losses to Fenwick in one regional semi and one district final coming during that time. The last time Tippecanoe reached the regional final was in 2010, where it lost to Alter, and it last made a state semifinal appearance in 2007.
It was clear early, though, that this time would be different.
The Falcons took a 5-2 lead in the first set and led as late as 8-6, but a three-point service run by Rachel Wildermuth put the Devils on top, and they built a 17-12 lead. Fenwick chipped into that lead and got back to within one at 19-18, but a kill by Kaitlyn Husic and another four-point run by Wildermuth made the score 24-18, and three points later Husic put the set away with a kill.
“We definitely needed that first set,” Husic said. “We needed that momentum to start the game, and once we got that, we were able to keep rolling the rest of the game.”
In the second, the Devils slowly built a 14-9 lead before a three-point service run by Hannah Wildermuth stretched it out to 18-10, and later another three-point run by Corinn Siefring gave them a double-digit lead at 22-12. Fenwick put together its longest run of the match to get back to within 23-18, but Tippecanoe still put the set away and took a commanding 2-0 lead.
And in the final set, with the Falcons holding an 11-10 lead, Husic hit the net chord on a back-row attack for a kill to tie the score, and in another sign of everything going Tippecanoe’s way, a serve by Molly Achtenberg clipped the net chord and dropped for an ace during a three-point run that put the Devils up 20-14, and Husic hit the net chord for an ace during the Devils’ final four-point run to close out the match.
“The plays that you don’t plan for, but that’s part of it,” Garcia said. “And they struggled a bit when their setter had some issues, they called three or four doubles, and she wasn’t able to get it to the middles like they wanted — that’s their bread an butter, their middles. She got a little tight, and the rest of the match is history.”
“We had momentum the whole match,” Husic said. “We were on fire the whole third set. We were on fire with our hitting, our passing, our blocks, back row and everything. It feels amazing.”
Rachel Wildermuth led the Devils with 12 kills, a block, an ace, nine digs and nine assists — with six of those kills coming in the final set.
“They didn’t stop her,” Garcia said. “We talked about going to the same play until they stopped you — and she did it, and they didn’t stop her or make an adjustment.”
“It felt great, but I had to get a good pass and set to be able to do that,” she said. “So I have to count on my team to get those balls to me, too. We have a great team chemistry, and we all work as hard as we can whenever we’re in the gym.
“We kept pushing at them and saw them breaking down. But we didn’t let up,” Rachel Wildermuth said.
Corinn Siefring added 12 kills and 10 digs, Husic finished with eight kills, an ace and 10 digs and Ashley Aselage had three kills and a dig. Achtenberg had two kills, two aces and three digs, Olivia Gustavson had two kills, Alaina Titley had 20 digs and seven assists, Hannah Wildermuth had 16 assists, and two digs and Alayna Liskey had one dig.
Now Tippecanoe will face Roger Bacon, ranked No. 7 in the state’s final D-II poll, in the regional final at 7 p.m. Saturday at Centerville High School. Roger Bacon (21-4) defeated Badin in Thursday’s other regional semifinal.
“Whoever comes out of it, we’ve got one day to prepare and then we’ll play again,” Garcia said. “The kids are looking forward to the challenge.”