For The Tribune
Providence’s volleyball team has made it to the state finals the past five years, playing in Class 2A and Class 3A, and has won three championships during that time.
The Pioneers were moved up to Class 4A this season because of the IHSAA’s success factor, but the stiffer competition hasn’t slowed them down at all.
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They have played 34 matches against Indiana teams this fall and won all of them.
On Saturday night, the Pioneers topped Seymour 25-17, 25-16, 25-11 in the Class 4A Sectional 15 championship match at New Albany.
Providence has won 33 straight matches since losing to a Louisville school early in the season.
The Pioneers are the first volleyball program to win sectional titles in three different classes.
The Owls advanced to the finals with a 25-21, 19-25, 17-25, 29-27, 15-13 win over Bedford North Lawrence on Saturday morning.
Owls coach Holly Birdsong said it is going to take a strong team to beat Providence.
“They’re a great team,” she said. “I think the girls did well fighting back against them. They just had a lot of shots, a lot of big hitters, a lot of things to defend, and we just couldn’t put a stop to all of them. I do think we played hard through all three matches and worked as hard as we could.”
The Owls held leads of 3-0, 6-2 and 9-6 in the first set before the Pioneers pulled even at 9.
The set was tied at 11 before Providence pulled ahead 18-14. A kill by Sophia Stahl closed the gap to 18-17, and another kill by Abby Schmidt left the Owls down 21-17 before the Pioneers scored the final four points.
The second set was tied at 9 before Providence rallied to lead 20-12. An ace by Makenna Fee left the Owls trailing 20-14, but that was as close as they could come in that set.
“We did a pretty good job staying with them in sets one and two about halfway through,” Birdsong said. “I just talked to my girls about limiting the errors on our side. This morning, we got in trouble with some errors on our side. We were doing a lot better job in serve-receive passing the ball up and just keeping the ball in play, and they were making some errors on their side that was helping us out.”
Seymour scored back-to-back points once in the third set to tie the score at 3, and the Pioneers steadily built their lead to advance to Saturday’s Seymour Regional.
“In the third game, we talked about just coming out and playing as hard as we could, win or lose, to go out and show that we have accomplished something this year,” Birdsong said. “They are good hitting, a lot faster than anything that we see.”
Jessica Blevins was 23 for 26 with eight kills in attacks, and Schmidt had six kills.
Emily Corcoran had 15 digs, while Fee had one solo and two assist blocks, and Peyton Levine had two solo blocks.
The Owls, without any seniors on the roster, finished the season 8-24. Providence only has one senior on its team.
In the semifinals, Seymour trailed Bedford North Lawrence 2-1 in the match and 13-7 in the fourth set when Birdsong called a timeout.
After the players came into the huddle, she looked up at the Seymour fans in the stands and said, “Cheer if you want to see them play like they did in the first game.”
Seymour then scored back-to-back points with an ace by Levine closing the gap to 13-9. The Owls kept charging and tied the set at 22 on a kill by Fee and followed that up with a kill by Emma Gillaspy for a 23-22 lead.
The score was tied four more times, the last at 27, before Seymour used a net violation by the Stars to score set point and force a fifth set.
Seymour started off strong with leads of 7-0 and 11-2 before the Stars rallied to close to 13-12. A kill by Fee stopped Bedford North Lawrence’s momentum, but the Stars scored the next point for a 14-13 score. Match point came on a passing error by Bedford North Lawrence.
The first set was tied seven times, the final at 20, before the Owls closed on a 5-1 run with set point coming on a tip by Schmidt.
An ace by Fee gave Seymour a 15-14 lead in the second set before the Stars went on a 5-0 run to lead the rest of the way.
Seymour held an 8-6 lead in the third set before the Stars took control with a 10-5 run.
Birdsong said she was happy to beat the Stars after losing a five-set Hoosier Hills Conference match at home Oct. 3.
“I kept telling my team in games two and three that it was our errors on our side that were causing us to fall behind in the games,” she said. “It wasn’t anything that Bedford was doing to get on top of us. It was communication on our side, and once we figured that out, we came back and finished the game.”
She said the nerves got to her team late in the fifth set.
“They’re a young team, and they do get rattled when we get down a few points, and as long as we keep them confident in what they do, we play well,” she said. “They were having a hard time stopping some of our hitters today, which is great. We haven’t see that a lot this season.
“Makenna and Jessica both did a great job of putting the ball down. We moved around our block a little bit to shut down their big hitter, and that seemed to work for the most part. She did get some big hits. She’s a great hitter, but we stopped her more today than she got her hits.”
The Owls had 50 kills against the Stars with Blevins having 23, Schmidt seven and Noemi Farkas six.
Schmidt was 23 for 25 with two aces in serving, and Corcoran was the leader in digs with 28.