MISHAWAKA — Making a defensive switch helped make Elkhart Central a first-time IHSAA regional volleyball champion.
Blue Blazers head coach Yolanda Stahl had her players make an adjustment about midway through the match Tuesday, Oct. 29, that keyed Central to a 25-22, 21-25, 25-22, 25-22 Class 4A regional victory at Penn and a spot in the four-team Huntington North Semistate on Saturday, Nov. 2. The Blazers meet Munster in an 11 a.m. semifinal.
“We adjusted to the cross shot after they went down the line early,” said Stahl, who saw her team move to 29-3 and avenge a five-set regular-season loss to the Kingsmen.
“We realized in the second game that they were sending balls in our corners and we switched our defense,” said Central senior libero Kate Cobb. “I covered the deep corner.
“We were relentless on defense.”
Blazer senior Azariah Stahl explained that it was a matter of reading the shoulders of the Penn attackers and Central defenders “staying on their toes.”
With senior Madison Vaught making three blocks and Stahl, senior Jenai White and junior Christi Yoder one each, the Blazers slowed down Penn’s three-pronged attack of junior Kassidy Meiss (22 kills), junior Sarah Ross (19) and senior Aly Schneider (11).
Azariah Stahl, who came into the night averaging 7.7 kills per set, put down 30 Tuesday while senior Jenai White ripped 11 kills.
“Fear of losing helps us keep them from getting runs,” said Stahl, who was serving when Central went on an 8-0 run of its own in the third set. “We just had a settle down, relax and take it one play at a time.”
Penn coach Sarah Hendricks said her team’s strategy was to slow down the high-flying Stahl.
“We knew she was going to get her points,” said Hendricks. “We wanted to try to contain her a little bit.”
As for Stahl, Tuesday marked the first time in her high school court career she had been on the winning side against the Kingsmen.
“It was a mental block,” said Stahl. “But we know Penn is a real good team.”
Cobb said the Blazers’ recipe for success is togetherness.
“It all boils down to the chemistry we have,” said Cobb. “It’s truly a family.”
At semistate, Central will play a Munster Mustangs squad that topped Crown Point for a regional title. The other side of the bracket features No. 1-ranked Carmel against Fort Wayne Carroll. The semistate final is slated for 7 p.m. The winner moves on to the IHSAA State Finals Saturday, Nov. 9, at Ball State University in Muncie. The 4A match is scheduled for 5 p.m.
4A Regional at Penn
CENTRAL def. PENN 25-22, 21-25, 25-22, 25-22
Top Central players: Aces — Azariah Stahl 2, Kate Cobb 1, Ally Delks 1, Carson McAfee 1, Taylor Shreiner 1. Assists — Shreiner 46. Kills — Stahl 30, Jenai White 11. Blocks — Madison Vaught 3, Stahl 1, White 1, Christi Yoder 1. Digs — Cobb 18, Delks 13.
Top Penn players: Aces — Alayna Wozniak 3, Lexi Ball 2, Meg Gabbard 2. Assists — Wozniak 54. Kills — Kassidy Meiss 22, Sarah Ross 19, Aly Schneider 11. Blocks — Schneider 2. Digs — Ball 16, Wozniak 12, Gabbard 9.
Records: Central 29-3, Penn 29-9.
Next: Central vs. Munster (34-3), 11 a.m., FW Carroll (28-7) vs. Carmel (35-1), to follow, Saturday, Nov. 2, in semifinals of Class 4A Huntington North Semistate; 7 p.m. championship.