Times Sports Editor
SEYMOUR -- The Northview Knights ran out of magic on Saturday at the Seymour volleyball regional against a Floyd Central squad that looked every bit the part of the third-ranked team in the state.
The Knights hung tough with the big and powerful Highlanders squad during the first game, but couldn't produce the perfect effort to defeat Floyd Central, falling 25-17, 25-11, 25-14. The Highlanders went on to win the nightcap match against Columbus East, which had beaten Castle in the other afternoon match. Floyd Central (35-3) advances to the state finals for the third straight season and will face Elkhart Memorial (35-2).
Northview coach Scott McDonald was impressed by Floyd Central as well as his own team despite the loss.
"All week we talked about believing we can play with (Floyd Central) and I think we played with them, but they are just so big, so strong and so fast that they just wore us down. That's the best high school team I've ever seen, period," McDonald said.
Northview tied the game up at 13-apiece on a tip by Clark and a net violation call by the Highlanders. From there however, Floyd Central went to one of its powerful seniors, Laura Der, for back-to-back kills as Floyd Central gained the lead for good. She had five kills in the game, 12 in the match to go with 14 digs. Her successful attacks sparked an 11-4 run to end the game despite a block by Lizzie Emmert and a kill by Samantha Solomon. Jordan Owens had a pair of service aces as Floyd Central ended the game on a 6-1 run.
With Floyd Central's talent and size, McDonald knew that his team was going to have to play nearly flawless volleyball to have a chance.
"We knew we had to take risks, they block the ball extremely well and they're huge," McDonald said. "We talked about rolls and shooting, but tried everything we had in our arsenal. Unfortunately there just weren't enough bullets in the gun. They got a touch on almost every ball. We might have had five clean swings the whole game."
In the second game, Brylie Riddell gave the Knights a 3-2 lead early, but Floyd Central's Melanie Stutsman served out an 8-1 run to put the Highlanders in control, 9-3. The senior did a little of everything, passing out 29 assists with 18 points and 13 digs in the match.
The final game saw Northview lead 3-2 early, but with Stutsman at the service line, she had a pair of aces and Floyd Central opened up a 13-4 lead as the Highlanders took advantage of every small mistake by the Knights. Clark had a kill to get the Knights within 18-6 but a service error put the Highlanders up 20-9 and McDonald ended the match by getting his remaining seniors into the match, including Alyssa Clarke, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in the sectional. She came in to play a point as senior teammate, Long hammered a kill. Stephanie McMains, Brailyn Whitson and Maxine West, each were on the court at the end along with classmates, Ali Sharton and Solomon.
Though his team lost, McDonald felt that his senior group set some new standards for the program.
"The underclassmen know what it's like to win now and I think they know how to play at this level, we just have to grow six inches and jump 10 inches higher," McDonald quipped. "I told them in the locker room that there are times that you lose or give the game away. We just got beat. (Floyd Central) is better than any other team I've seen. My kids didn't quit, they were just better than we were."
Long had five kills, five digs a block and two aces in the match. Hannah Hayes passed out 12 assists and two kills with Clark providing seven kills and eight digs. Sharton had four digs, six assists and two kills, Riddell rang up five kills and Ashlen Buck added nine digs. Solomon provided two assists, a kill, a block and an ace and Emmert added a kill.
Of his seniors, McDonald spoke very highly of a class that won the school's first sectional in 14 years while piling up a 28-9 record.
"These girls worked their butts off for me for three years that I've had them. To win a sectional, they've kind of set the bar now as far as the work ethic that is expected in our program," McDonald said. "They are going to be hard to replace and that's the toughest thing about high school, you have to replace them all at some point."