by Beau Wicker
Two years ago, Kattie Lee’s powerful jump serve helped Pioneer’s volleyball team go all the way to the semistate final.
Now a student at Frontier, Lee’s serving was a big reason why Pioneer did not reach the semistate final this season.
Frontier’s dynamic duo of Lee and Jenna Sullivan led the Falcons to a 26-24, 27-25, 25-16 win over the Panthers Saturday afternoon in a semifinal match of the Class A Caston Semistate in a battle of Midwest Conference powers.
Pioneer coach Rod Nies entered the match thinking his squad would see jump-float serves from Lee, but instead the 5-foot-8 senior brought her booming jump serve.
“Her aces for the season were way down, and when we played them earlier she only tried to jump serve one time,” Nies said. “She definitely gave us the okey doke in this one.
“The only thing I can say is we trained her well.”
Pioneer led game one 21-17 before a Lee serving barrage that included four aces put the Falcons on top 23-21. A Cassidy Corn block and Sarah Dorris kill made it 24-23 Pioneer, and the Panthers served for set point before two hitting errors and an ace by Jesah Marlatt allowed the Falcons to take game one.
Game two had a similar finish in that the Panthers served for set point twice before coming up short. That’s because of two tip kills by Sullivan evened the set and Lee ended it with two kills.
“We’re one point ... it’s just a matter of making a play here or there and we win the first two sets, and then we have the momentum,” Nies said. “We had our chances. I told the girls, we lost eight players from last year’s sectional team, everybody counted us out. The girls worked hard. We had our chances to beat them. That’s the only thing a coach can ask for is to put yourself in a position to win a match like that. I thought we did, we just fell a little short.”
There was no such drama in game three. With Lee and Sullivan both in the front row at the same time, the Falcons scored the last 13 points of the match after Pioneer had led 16-12 to finish off the sweep.
“It seemed like we had them down, and it seemed like either Sullivan or Lee or that combination when they’re in that one rotation where both of them rotated to the front, it seemed like they were either there or Lee was serving,” Nies said. “That’s the great thing about volleyball is there’s so many games of runs, when you have two really good teams slugging it out, ball control becomes a huge issue. And I thought their ball control was a little bit better than ours, especially off of serve receive. We seemed to really struggle a bit and we were out of system a lot.”
Was Nies surprised his team didn’t have better ball control, which is usually a strength of his squad?
“We typically take care of the ball better than we did, but you have your ups and downs,” he said. “It wasn’t like we had really bad ball control where we were passing the ball up in the stands or anything, we were pulling our setter off the net and she had to set from the 10-foot line or behind. Everything was out of system, and that’s pretty easy for a team to set up a defense on. They know where the ball’s going to go. Everything’s going up and outside, so the block can get set up and the defense can set up behind them.”
Sullivan was a towering force at the net. The 6-2 senior set up a huge block, and her presence alone made a big impact.
“A lot of people don’t understand when you have a 5-8 or a 5-9 middle compared to a girl that’s 6-2 that’s got really long arms, they can just reach and take away a lot more than what more than what your smaller blockers can,” Nies said. “When you’re 6-2, it’s hard to have an answer for that.”
Lee finished with 17 kills, 24 digs and six aces for Frontier. Sullivan floored 14 kills and 12 blocks. Megan Doyle dished 33 assists.
The Panthers have just three seniors on the roster, and all three greatly contributed to the success of this season in assists and aces leader Lindsey Miller, kills leader Gabby Dunlap and blocks leader Cassidy Corn. Miller had 25 assists, 11 digs and three aces in her final match as a Panther Saturday. Corn finished with nine kills and three blocks, and Dunlap floored five kills.
Dorris, a sophomore, posted 10 kills, seven digs and two blocks, and sophomore Hannah Tevis put down five blocks. Junior Kayte Miller collected 15 digs, and sophomore Lyndsey Stewart added two kills.
Pioneer ends its season with a 25-10 record, sectional and regional championships and a No. 6 state ranking.
“It was a pleasure. I couldn’t be happier for my girls,” Nies said.
In the championship match, Cowan topped Frontier 26-24, 25-13, 25-17 to advance to next Saturday’s Class A championship match against Loogootee.