Times Sports Editor
CRAWFORDSVILLE - If the Northview volleyball team makes a successful postseason run this year, it can look back to being battle tested in tournament play against teams in the Barr-Reeve, Avon and North Montgomery Invitationals.
The Knights lost three matches during the course of the 15 that they played, but showed the sort of mettle against unfamiliar opponents that will come in handy during clutch postseason matches. On Saturday, the Knights came home with a championship at North Montgomery after winning all four of their matches. Northview cruised past the host Chargers, 25-15, 25-20 and Beech Grove, 25-12, 25-12 in pool play before knocking off Chesterton, 21-25, 27-25, 15-5 to advance to the title match against Fishers.
In the championship against the Tigers, a team that reached the regional title game last year, the Knights pounded out a 25-23, 25-21 win that had coach Scott McDonald excited about his team's performance.
"Playing in these tournaments is a great way to prepare for the postseason," McDonald said. "We have to learn how to close teams out to advance through each particular one and to win in a must win environment. The tougher the tournament, the more the girls can learn to prepare. "
The wins improved the Knights' overall mark to 27-3 overall with the only losses coming in tourney play against Class A No. 1 Barr-Reeve, which is still unbeaten. The Knights also lost close decisions to Greenwood and Franklin in the Avon Tournament. The game that Northview won against Barr-Reeve is one of only three the 30-0 team has lost all season.
The two pool games only served to get the Knights' warmed up for the main events later in the afternoon.
Against the Chargers, the Knights' front line of Shelbi Morris (eight kills), McKenzi Kumpf (11 kills) and Brylie Riddell (six kills) did what they needed to for the victory and the defense got 14 digs from Ashlen Buck, who became the eighth player to reach the 100-win mark for her career. Riddell also posted six digs, Alexus Bex added two and Audrey Clark contributed two in the lopsided win. The passing was also sharp with Taylor Hess and Briana Cook combining for 21 assists.
The wins propelled the Knights into a semifinal match against Chesterton where the Knights hand their hands full in a rollercoaster of a battle. Northview fell behind midway through the first game before rallying back to tie the set at 21-all. However, the sizable Trojans got a kill from senior Kate Nowak and another from Shelby Ruffner to take game one.
"The Chesterton game was extremely tough, what I saw was a group that does not quit, and has a lot of mental toughness and chemistry that they believe in each other and believe they can win every game," McDonald said.
Hess was a prime example of the toughness this team possesses as she suffered through flu-like symptoms all day long. Despite very warm temperatures in the main North Montgomery gym, Hess spent most of her time between matches with her warm-up gear on as she battled through.
"Taylor is a very gutty player," McDonald said of the freshman setter. "I offered to sit her out for a while due to her feeling poorly, and she refused. That is a telling sign of how tough she is, just like the rest of our girls."
Chesterton looked to finish the Knights off in game two as the Trojans took a 16-14 lead, but a back-and-forth point ended with a powerful kill from Rowan. She followed that up by putting away a free ball at the net and the momentum swung the Knights way.
"Mikayla hit a bomb on that ball and really started the comeback for us," McDonald noted. "She has worked extremely hard with Briana and Taylor on that particular shot and it came through huge for us when it counted."
The boost helped the Knights back to a 22-22 tie and it was a block from Rowan, who had three kills and two blocks in the match, that gave the Knights a lead. A kill from Riddell tied the match at 25-all and back-to-back hitting errors by Chesterton evened the match at a game apiece.
The Northview rally seemed to break Chesterton's spirit a bit as the Knights got one of Morris' six kills and another from Riddell (11 kills) for a 9-3 lead. Buck would serve out the final five points, including an ace to capture the victory.
"As you look through the day, every player on the team made a critical play to keep us moving forward," McDonald said. "Audrey had some very tough serves hit at her that she handled very well, Ashlen was Ashlen (she also joined the 100-win club with the win over Beech Grove), Briana made great decisions all day and moved the ball extremely well, Shelbi hit well, McKenzi hit well and Mikayla is getting more comfortable with hitting slides."
In the championship match, the Knights looked to run away early, building a 16-11 lead off a kill from Morris, but Fishers rallied with two aces from Katelyn Moody and a kill from Hanna Kinsey to tie the match. However, Riddell halted the run with one of her two blocks and was generally just flying around, selling out to keep the ball off the floor all match.
Riddell had a superb all-around match with six kills, eight digs and three blocks to go with two aces.
"Brylie is a great athlete and is extremely versatile on the court, she can play any position at a high level. I thought that she really elevated her play in both the Chesterton and Fishers matches," McDonald said of his junior hitter.
The Knights finished off a game one win off one of Kumpf's nine kills in the match.
Fishers came out strong in game two as Beresford game the Tigers a 6-4 lead early, but an ace from Riddell and a kill from Rowan helped spark Northview to a 6-0 run and an 11-9 advantage.
With a tourney title within striking distance, Riddell helped finish it off with a pair of late kills to go with nine from Kumpf and five from Morris, who also had five digs. Buck posted 11 digs, Hess had nine assists, three digs and two aces with Cook adding seven assists. Willocks had a dig and an assist and Bex posted an assist.
"Hannah played very well in defense and serve receive, and Alexus made some great plays as well, especially with her pancake that saved a definite point. I was so proud of all of them for pulling out this tournament for the first time," McDonald said.
The Knights have won 19 straight matches to improve to 27-3 overall and visit Danville before closing the regular season at home with matches against Crawfordsville tonight and Plainfield on Wednesday.
North Montgomery Invitational