JUCO volleyball: Warriors come alive late on Sophomore Night

Nov. 1—OTTUMWA — It could be an exciting weekend in Ottumwa for Indian Hills athletics.

The Warriors provided a preview of what could be coming both on the court and in the stands this Saturday when IHCC hosts the NJCAA Midwest District Tournament. Trailing two sets to one against DMACC in the final match of the regular season on Monday, the Warriors put together a rally that electrified the student body inside the Hellyer Student Life Center.

The louder the crowd got, the better 18th-ranked Indian Hills played on the Honey Creek Resort Court. The final result was a match-closing 39-13 run against the Bears, clinching a five-set Sophomore Night win for the Warriors as IHCC closed out the regular season with a 25-21, 17-25, 22-25, 25-11, 15-4 victory gaining positive momentum heading into this weekend's bid for a return to the national tournament.

"We really got a good look at both what works and what doesn't work at this point," Indian Hills head volleyball coach Lyndsey Michel said. "When we get up there, work together and bring good energy, we can be successful. I felt like we brought energy at the start of the match, but it was the wrong energy and it kind of got us working against ourselves."

Indian Hills was able to grind out the win in the opening game against the Bears, using a balanced attack that included four kills apiece from Larissa Scatamburlo, Kinga Michalska and Sara Van Gisteren to edge DMACC by four in the most competitive game of the match. Ace serves by Sasha Vidal and Ana Carolina Westerich helped IHCC pull away from a 16-16 tie before consecutive kills by Van Gisteren closed out the game.

"I think it's always a little bit of a mix for us between the energy of the match and our confidence that determines our level of play," Scatamburlo said. "When the energy level is a little bit down, we tend to go a little bit down. We've just got to focus on our game and play the way we do no matter how well the other team is playing."

As DMACC raised their game over the next two sets, the Warriors struggled to respond. The Bears collected 16 blocks defending the net, over twice as many as the seven blocks scored by IHCC, while matching the Warriors with 66 total digs frustrating Indian Hills into 13 hitting errors over the next two sets pulling away midway through the second set to level the match at 1-1 before two late blocks and a key kill by Monica Mirembe lifted DMACC to a three-point win in the pivotal third game putting the Warriors behind on Sophomore Night.

"That's the hardest thing. As coaches, we're begging for good energy and more energy," Michel said. "I don't know how else to do it at this point other than take a step back and be a little more demanding."

The Warriors seemed to take the stern words of Michel prior to the fourth set to heart. Van Gisteren helped Indian Hills jump out to a 7-2 lead by scoring on three early kills before really lighting up the Hellyer Center with four consecutive ace serves giving the Warriors a commanding 14-5 lead in the must-win set.

"We had a lot of missed serves in the last game. We needed to switch that up," Van Gisteren said. "I found my spot on the court and I just kept going back to it. We need to stay aggressive on the serve.

"I'm always looking for one person that may not be passing the ball quite as well. If I find that person, I try to keep serving it at them even if it's the libero. She can have an off-day too. You've got to take a risk sometimes. That just doesn't work to serve safely if you're trying for aces."

Indian Hills finished the match with 18 serves, over twice as many as the seven delivered by DMACC. The Warriors also finished the night with 60 kills, almost twice as many as the 37 kills recorded by the Bears (26-9), with Michalska delivering 22 to lead all attackers on her birthday including the match-clinching hammer in a fifth set that IHCC dominated from the start jumping out to an 8-1 lead.

"We kind of just put more of a focus on the issue of going after one area of the court rather trying to attack the entire team," Michel said. "DMACC's a scrappy team. They kept sending things back and were making plays after of almost-kills. We didn't get into a good rhythm in those first few sets and didn't get in a good flow. We just have to be consistent on the good things."

Indian Hills closes out the regular season with a record of 26-10. The win was the 68th overall in 82 matches for the sophomore class that was honored prior to the start of Monday's match including Vidal, Kiley Heller, Maggie Paiva, Vitoria Dias Silva, Scatamburlo, Michalska, Gabriela Bieniek and Emme Wilson.

"They've been a big part of one national tournament team so far. They're just a bunch of great kids," Michel said of her current sophomores. "I'm kind of immune to this. I know the relationships and friendships I'll have with them watching them grow up and have families after they leave here. That's a bigger part of all of this. We'll have a lot of time to say goodbye between now and May, but it's a great group of girls."

Indian Hills hope to have two more matches to play and win at home this season. The Warriors host the four-team Midwest District tournament on Saturday opening against either Kennedy King or Malcolm X College at 11 a.m.

Should IHCC win, the Warriors will play for a national tournament berth later on Saturday afternoon against either Missouri State-West Plains or Vincennes in the regional finals. The Indian Hills volleyball team will hope for the same electricity from the student body that included many members of the IHCC men's soccer team that will also be hoping to earn their own national tournament berth this weekend playing Harry S. Truman College in their district tournament semifinal at home on Friday at noon with a win giving the Warriors to play in their own district title match on Sunday afternoon in Ottumwa.

"It will be a battle, but everyone's excited for us," Michel said. "This is a great time of year. Anything can happen. Come out to Indian Hills this weekend. Hopefully, it will be a big weekend of celebration."

— Scott Jackson can be reached at Follow him on Twitter@CourierScott.