The quest for its first high school volleyball championship couldn't have started much worse for Parke Heritage than the first few moments Saturday night of the Class 2A North Putnam Sectional championship match against the host Cougars.
Or maybe that's not quite true.
The Wolves spotted North Putnam an 8-2 lead in the first set, including giving up five service aces, but fought back to gain a 25-22,, 25-17, 25-20 decision and advance to next Saturday's regional at Heritage Christian.
No worries, the Wolves said afterward.
"Last weekend at the North Montgomery tournament, we were down 11-1 and fought back and won that set," Parke Heritage setter Jillian Gregg said. "We've figured out how to get ourselves out of a hole."
"They're teenaged girls," said co-coach Samantha Gregg, who knows about those things. "They were a little shaky at the beginning, but then they came together as a team and went for it. There was a lot of drive out there tonight."
"We came to play," said outside hitter Atlantis Clendenin. "We were not going home without this trophy."
Parke Heritage chipped into its early deficit gradually, Jenna Brown contributing two important kills, but still hadn't taken the lead when a kill by Clendenin tied the set at 13-13. North Putnam then committed back-to-back attack errors to give the Wolves a lead they held the rest of the first set.
It was Parke Heritage's turn to jump out to a lead in the second set, but the Cougars rallied with five straight points to tie the score 8-8. Clendenin broke the tie with another of her 22 kills, then stepped to the service line and rattled off five aces in a row. After a few early hits that went long, the IUPUI-bound senior got her topspin game working.
"I know I just need to snap [my wrist]," Clendenin explained later. "I always aim for the back line; I was taught to miss long if I was going to miss."
Parke Heritage opened the third set with a 7-1 lead, and the rest of the match seemed a formality for everyone but the Cougars. North Putnam's resilience was typified by libero Ashley Weir, who took one powerful Clendenin smash right between the eyes — that was the point that broke the 8-8 tie in the second set — and fielded two more with her face, yet got up smiling every time.
"We'd beaten them [earlier this year], and we were playing them at [their] home," said Samantha Gregg when asked about North Putnam's performance. "We knew what to expect."
"I think we all played great," said Jillian Gregg. "Our energy and communication was very good. I'm glad we pulled it together and won our first sectional championship." North Putnam, Jillian Gregg also noted, had knocked the Wolves out in the first round a year ago.
The Wolves might be a little healthier a week from now too.
"We're missing one senior starter," Samantha Gregg said, "but we had some sophomore girls step in and do a good job."
Highlights — For Parke Heritage, Jillian Gregg had 25 assists, 3 blocks, 2 kills, 12 points and 2 aces; Atlantis Clendenin 22 kills, 2 blocks, an assist, 9 points and 6 aces; Carly Harpold an assist, a block, 8 points and an ace; Mady Millspaugh 7 points and 2 aces; Kailyn McKinney an assist, 5 points and an ace; Jenna Brown 4 kills, an assist and a point; Grace Ramsay 3 kills and a block; Kristen Wood 2 blocks and a kill; and Haley Holcomb a point.
For North Putnam, Zoey Dickson had 6 assists, 4 kills, a block, 6 points and 5 aces; Haley Dickson 9 assists, 2 kills, a block, 5 points and 2 aces; and Kyla Willis 8 kills, an assist, 6 points and 3 aces.
Next — Parke Heritage (24-6) plays Triton Central at 10 a.m. next Saturday at the Class 2A Heritage Christian Regional. North Putnam finished 16-13.