VOLLEYBALL: Pioneer gears for semi-state match vs. No. 1 Muncie Burris

Oct. 27—Pioneer faces a matchup with the famed Muncie Burris volleyball program Saturday at the Class 2A Frankfort Semi-State.

The match is set to begin at 4 p.m. at historic Case Arena.

Muncie Burris has an historic volleyball program. The Owls have won a state-record 22 state championships in the sport. Michigan City Marquette is second with nine, Cathedral has eight and Muncie Central has six.

"The program and the name Muncie Burris is not just known in the state but it's known nation wide," Pioneer coach Rod Nies said. "Steve Shondell back in the day when he was the coach there, they never lost a 2A state championship when he was there as the head coach. It's a very historic program. It's an excellent program. Most of the kids that come out of there go on to play collegiately at the next level. They've got a lot of history, a lot of good history. It's a great thing. I'm looking forward to it."

The Owls (19-4) are ranked No. 1 in Class 2A this season. They broke a nine-year regional drought by sweeping Madison-Grant and No. 8 Adams Central last Saturday at Elwood. Adams Central defeated No. 4 Lafayette Central Catholic earlier in the day.

The Panthers (24-13) enter unranked but they're coming off a four-set win over No. 3 South Central and a five-set win over No. 10 Churubusco at last Saturday's Rochester Regional.

It was the Panthers' ninth regional title, all coming since 2010, which was the last year Burris won a state championship.

It was Pioneer's first volleyball regional title in Class 2A. The Panthers won a Class A state championship in 2020.

Both Burris and Pioneer have balanced offensive attacks.

Pioneer's kills leaders this year are Mackenzie-Ruth Rogers (266), Brooklyn Borges (254), Blair Grigsby (168), Liz Rance (163), Kylie Attinger (155) and Keirsten Nies (96).

Nies leads in aces with 69. Rogers leads in blocks with 40. Addie Cripe leads in digs with 427. Rogers leads in assists with 357, followed by Nies (329) and Grigsby (197).

Lilly Howell, a 6-foot-2 junior, leads Burris in kills with 343.

Coach Nies said Howell is a similar talent to Churubusco's Ella Boersema, who is headed to IU to play volleyball.

"They have four girls that carry the load on their attacks. Their two middles are very active. One of them is probably very similar to the gal from Churubusco," Nies said. "She's about the same size, 6-2 or so. The other is a freshman [Jamaria Jackson]. She's about 5-11, 6-foot, jumps really well. Then both their left-side hitters are really solid.

"They're a very disciplined, very good team. They have excellent ball control. They're exactly what every Muncie team is when it comes to volleyball. They're pretty much a machine. So we'll have our work cut out for us."

The Panthers didn't have the regular season they were looking for with the amount of talent that they have. But they've peaked at the right time of the season as they and their coach were hoping for.

"I like our chances if we come to play and we continue to elevate our play like we have the last couple times out on the floor, I think we've got a good shot at them," Nies said. "But we've got to take care of the ball, we've got to cut down on our errors from our end and we've got to take care of our serve and serve receive. If we can do those three things I think we'll have a shot at them.

"I like where we're at. The girls are pretty focused. They're embracing the underdog mentality. No one is giving us a chance to beat them. No one gave us a chance to win this past weekend either. So I'm looking forward to the challenge and I think my girls are as well."