Times Sports Editor
The role of the favorite isn't always easy heading into postseason play, but that is the label both Clay City and Northview own and relish for their respective sectionals that kick off this evening at Clay City and Martinsville.
The Eels are starving for a title, having never won a championship while Northview claimed a sectional trophy in 2009.
Last year Clay City reached the title match against North Central (Farmersburg). The Eels won the first two games of the best-of-five series before the Thunderbirds rallied to win the final three and the sectional title.
That emotional loss has stayed with the remaining members of the Eels squad.
"The girls have been thinking about that all season," Clay City coach Lu Anne Anderson said in regards to losing to North Central in the championship. "My three seniors took it very hard, they remember that moment. The junior class remembers that moment and they don't want to experience it again. We're going in with a little bit of a chip on our shoulder. We don't feel like we've gotten a lot of respect from teams this year. So we're ready to prove it to them."
However, North Central has moved up to Class 2A, which leaves the Eels to host a five-team sectional against several struggling programs.
Clay City has beaten each of the other four teams that make up the Class A Sectional 57. This evening, the Eels take on a White River Valley program that has struggled to a 3-22 overall mark this year. At 7 p.m., Clay City (15-10 overall) defeated the Wolverines comfortably by a 25-14, 25-18, 25-8 score on Oct. 11.
Junior Chloe Kittle served up 16 points in the win as she added three digs and two kills. Senior Brielle Drelick added a team-high nine kills with six digs. Callie Dayhuff led the way with eight digs as Emmie Kittle passed out 18 assists.
Anderson believes her team relishes the pressure of coming into the postseason with the label as a sectional favorite.
"We actually like that (role) coming into the sectional this year," Anderson said. "Last year going in only one team had beaten us and they ended up beating us in the final. This year we're pleased to come into the sectional as the favorite if you can even have one. We're not overlooking anyone. We've got a tough draw. We've got to play three games. So we're taking it one match at a time."
Facing the challenge of winning three matches to claim the school's first championship, Anderson knows her team has to have a complete effort, but is bolstered by hosting the sectional in front of the Eels' home fans.
"To win those three games, obviously the biggest thing for us is passing," Anderson said. "If we're going to pass the ball well, we're going to play well. If we're not, then it could be interesting.
"Having the sectional at Clay City is awesome," Anderson added. "I know last year at the sectional we had the biggest crowd there and I expect an even bigger crowd since it is at home. It's a big seventh man factor."
In the Class 4A Martinsville Sectional, the Knights (30-3 overall) have claimed three-game victories against all four of the sectional opponents that they have faced. Martinsville is the lone team that the Knights have not faced.
Northview opens play this evening against Mooresville at 6 p.m. The Knights opened the season by defeating the Pioneers in three games, 31-29, 25-18, 25-20. Mooresville has put together a 12-17 mark this season and has defeated Terre Haute South, but has lost to Terre Haute North, Plainfield, Martinsville and the Knights.
Northview comes into the sectional on quite a roll, boasting a 22-match winning streak and with that comes the title as the prohibitive favorite.
"We have a lot of confidence heading into the sectional, but we realize that it is going to be a great challenge for us," Northview coach Scott McDonald said. "All of our potential opponents have definite strengths that can cause us problems. We will have to play well and put a lot of pressure on the other teams' defense."
Having played Mooresville on opening night back on Aug. 15, the Pioneers offer a bit of mystery regarding how the team has matured over the course of a long season. However, McDonald took the opportunity to see the Pioneers recently in a match against Brownsburg to get a renewed perspective on the Knights' sectional foe.
"After watching them play again, we were able to identify some definite tendencies in the offense. They have two primary hitters that we will need to account for wherever they are on the court," McDonald said. "From our standpoint, we will need to have good ball control and give our hitters a chance to swing. Defensively, we are stronger with Ashlen (Buck) and Audrey (Clark) in the back row. We will need to challenge their serve receive and take advantage of a lot of out of system free ball opportunities."
On the Knights' side is having several players with past experience in winning a sectional title. Northview captured a championship during the 2009 season, also at Martsinville.
"Ashlen, Brylie (Riddell), and Briana (Cook) were on the last sectional champion that we had. They are able to share those experiences and the emotional roller coaster that is sectional volleyball with the younger girls," McDonald said. "Alexus (Bex), Shelbi (Morris), and Audrey are also experienced in the environment that we will play in, so our younger players will have a lot of people to lean on."
Game two this evening will be a match-up between Martinsville (16-9 overall) and Terre Haute North.
On Saturday, the winners of tonight's contests will play at 11 a.m. with Terre Haute South (10-19 overall) taking on Plainfield (12-20 overall) in the second game. The semifinal winners play for the title at 7 p.m.
Northview reached the 30-win plateau for the first time since the 2007 season when the Knights were 31-4, but McDonald is hoping for a different result in the postseason. Northview lost in the semifinals to Plainfield that season, but McDonald feels his team is prepared to take that next step as a program.
"First and foremost is the chemistry that these girls have developed, it is like being in a gym with 10 sisters that play hard for each other and never give up," McDonald said. "The resolve that this team has shown is amazing given the youth of this team. Chemistry is so critical in volleyball and this team has it. The physical strengths are obvious with offense and defense, but just the sense of team is unmatched in my coaching career. They are a great example of the type of kids and personalities it takes to be successful as a team, but also the type of kids we want in our program. We never want to see "me first" type of people in our program."