By Dennis Glade Sports Writer
The Washington Times-Herald
---- — One point. That’s how close the Barr-Reeve Vikings were to advancing to the Class A state championship in 2010.
The Vikings lost the first two sets in that year’s semistate championship match to their 2013 opponent — Indianapolis Lutheran. Barr-Reeve roared back by winning the next two sets and were a single point away from a trip to Muncie for the state championship before falling 16-14 in the fifth set. That heartbreaking loss has burned a fire inside the Viking program ever since.
All four Barr-Reeve seniors on this year’s team were freshmen on the 2010 team — Jenna Knepp and Hania Sisco were starters — Tracy Graber and Allison Hoover were rotation players. To be so close and not achieve their goal has eaten at that senior class since that match at North Daviess. Lutheran would go to Muncie and fall to Lafayette Central Catholic, Barr-Reeve’s opponent on Saturday morning.
Even three years later, the loss still stings.
“It’s been in the back of our heads this whole time,” Knepp said. “We were one point away — one pass away, one set away, one hit away and we didn’t make it. We definitely have some revenge to get.”
A key to the success Barr-Reeve has enjoyed this season is how in-sync the players are with each other on the court. The chemistry that began building long before any of the girls ever played a varsity match is evident to anyone who has watched the Vikings this season and during the state tournament. Knepp said that is a aspect of the team that has taken a long time to build.
“It makes the team,” Knepp said. “If we can all connect, it makes everything go better. It makes everything a lot more fun too.”
Barr-Reeve coach Amber DeCoursey has seen all four seniors grow from 14-year-old freshman to 18-year-old young women on and off the court. She said coaching all four has been a joy to experience as their coach. Each girl fits into a role that their skills lend to help the team be as successful as it can be.
“Jenna Knepp has been a starter for me for four years and she is a tremendous floor leader,” DeCoursey said. “Obviously our offense goes through her and she does an excellent job delivering to our hitters. Hania Sisco has also been in the rotation since her freshman year as an outside or right side hitter and Hania has grown every year as an outside player. She has really stepped up this year. She has elevated her game in the postseason and has had some really nice games for us.
“Tracy Graber is my middle is the one senior to go through this program where we see the most improvement from where she was as a freshman to where she is now is absolutely amazing. She’s put in the time and effort and has worked extremely hard, especially coming into her senior year and just like Hania, has really stepped up her play in the postseason. This year we’ve had Allison Hoover in a different role than what she had been in the past. She’s been playing right side defense there and I feel she is extremely comfortable there and she’s had an excellent year on that side. She has done a great job setting up hitters when Jenna has to take the first pass. She has good hands and we found a perfect role for her this year.”
The chemistry Barr-Reeve seniors and DeCoursey talk about comes from hours and hours of practice and plenty of match experience that makes the plays feel so smooth and the rhythmic play starts with the ball placement of Knepp to hitters like Sisco, Graber and junior Tiara Kenney. That perfect ball placement was on full display Saturday night in the semistate championship match when she had 53 assists and Sisco capitalized with 24 kills, which led the Vikings.
“If you’re not on the right page with each other, then it’s not going to work out,” Graber said.
DeCoursey said her and the coaching staff will do their best to try to minimize the magnitude of the match, so that players don’t get overwhelmed by the moment. Saturday will be the biggest and most important match of each and every girls’ volleyball career, but enjoying the moment instead of thinking too much will be key to success.
“We don’t want to overthink everything,” Hoover said. “We haven’t accomplished our goal which is actually winning the state championship. We don’t want to give it a big name when it’s just another match.”
The devastating loss in 2010 created a rallying cry this year “ONE Point” has turned into “ONE Community” after the tragic death of 2012 Barr-Reeve valedictorian Brandon Wagler. Wagler’s sister, Megan plays for the junior varsity. She won’t dress for the state championship match, but will be with the team as the girls will continue to honor Wagler with green ribbons in their hair during the match. This is just another symbol of the selfless, community first attitude DeCoursey’s team has embodied for the past four years.
Win or lose today, DeCoursey will look back at this team with fond memories about how this team has matured over the past couple of years as they found the rhythm and focus to make a run through the state tournament without losing the youthful exuberance that makes volleyball fun.
“They are very fun to be around,” DeCoursey said. “They make practice fun, they make games fun. So many people comment on how fun this group is to watch, because they look like they’re having fun on the floor and that is so key in volleyball. They make it enjoyable on the court and off the court and for some teams that’s difficult to find.”