BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS
Sports Editor, RTC
The Caston volleyball team defeated Lewis Cass 25-15, 25-11 and Pioneer 25-22, 23-25, 15-9 to win the Cass County Tournament Saturday. It is the first county tournament title in school history. The win over Pioneer is believed to be their first in at least 20 years.
FULTON — Not that beating Pioneer or winning the Cass County Tournament is routine, but the Caston volleyball team did not make it easy on themselves in the Cass County Tournament championship match Saturday when a mental blunder forced them to essentially win 27 points in the first set.
But as coach Gina Hierlmeier later said, for the Lady Comets, however, there are no obstacles too gigantic as they earned a 25-22, 23-25, 15-9 win over the Lady Panthers to win their first Cass County Tournament title.
Pioneer had won the tournament seven consecutive years prior to Saturday.
“I just actually looked at the trophy, and I was like (reading off the list of winners), ‘Pioneer-Pioneer-Pioneer-Pioneer.’ I was like, ‘Alright, we’ve placed our name in history.’ So just very proud of the girls. They’ve worked really hard, and tonight, after what I felt we gave away the second set, we would see what we were made of in the third set, and I was very proud of our efforts,” Hierlmeier said.
Caston trailed 8-6 in the final set when Hierlmeier called timeout in the midst of a three-point Pioneer run.
Go play the game, Hierlmeier said. Don’t be tentative. Want the ball. Do not look for somebody else to make a play.
Pioneer senior Brooklyn Borges, playing for the first time since ACL surgery last December, put a kill attempt into the net. Then Blair Grisby put a kill attempt into the net. A Pioneer net violation gave Caston a 9-8 lead. An Addison Zimpleman kill made it 10-8.
Now Pioneer took a timeout.
A dump from Grigsby, one of Pioneer’s three setters, made it 10-9. But Keirsten Nies missed on a kill attempt, and Isabel Scales and Macee Hinderlider followed with kills. Caston led 13-9, and Pioneer coach Rod Nies used his final timeout.
Coach Nies later said his team has “a lot to work on.”
“Our serve receive was a little questionable,” he said. “I thought our setters did a really poor job late in the game finding our hitters. We just weren’t in rhythm. … We hit everything angle, and the line was open. We kept telling our hitters to go line, and they just kept trying to go angle. That’s pretty easy to do when you’re a middle blocker and you don’t have to move, and they just hit right into your block. Hat goes off to Caston. They played great. They were ready for us.”
On the first point after the timeout, Scales put down a stuff block, and an Alexa Finke kill off the Pioneer block completed the match-ending 9-1 run and set off what perhaps was the wildest celebration a volleyball team has ever had in the second week in August.
“She said to get down to basics and to move our blocks to where they were hitting,” Hinderlider said as to what Hierlmeier told the team during the timeout. “And I think we just really played our best and played as a team in that moment.”
Given that they have never won a sectional title and it’s unclear if they have ever won any conference title and given that it’s unlikely that Caston has beaten Pioneer in the last 20 years, this might have been the most significant victory in Caston volleyball history.
“It feels great,” Finke said. “We’ve been striving to do this for such a long time, let alone beat Pioneer. So it’s really nice to beat them finally.”
Finke, Hinderlider, Scales, Zimpleman, Makena Middleton, Annie Harsh, Kylee Logan and Haley Logan are among the Caston players who played in the Class 1A softball state title game nine weeks earlier.
“Here’s one thing about this group of seniors that I have that we’re led by: They just have a huge amount of grit, and they don’t know what it is anymore not to win, and you just see it out on the floor on every point,” Hierlmeier said.
Caston got off to a 9-3 lead in the first set. Pioneer called timeout. After about a five-minute delay and consultations between the two officials and later with both coaches, the score was adjusted and suddenly read 7-4.
Hierlmeier said Caston was penalized for serving out of order. So in essence, Caston had to win 27 points in order to win the set. And Pioneer had to win only 24.
“From what I understand, though, is that we actually served the ball, and we won the point, but then somehow, one of our own girls rotated into service, so we didn’t realize that it was somebody from us. When we got the point, we were already serving the ball, so we just kind of kicked the next person into rotation. So that’s on us, and we talked about that in relation to our focus and knowing what’s going on. If I just serve the ball and we just won the point, guess what? I’m still serving.
“So we handled it well, I thought.”
But with Caston trailing 21-17, they finished on an 8-1 run anyway. Nies had a kill error, Finke had two straight kills, and Rogers missed on a kill try from the back row to tie it at 21.
But two more missed kills and a Finke kill made it 24-21. A Rogers kill kept the set alive for Pioneer before Hinderlider ended it on a tip off the block.
Finke praised her team’s mental fortitude afterwards.
“I think the key to tonight’s victory was keeping our head up because there were lots of moments in any of those three sets that we definitely could have just dropped dead and given up,” she said.
The second set was tied at 21, 22 and 23 before Caston was called for a double hit to give Pioneer a set point. When Scales put a kill attempt into the net, the best-of-three match was tied.
“We knew we were going to get a really good game,” coach Nies said. “At least I knew that anyway. … It’s just one of those things. They’re a good team. They’re much improved from what they had over the years.”
Pioneer reached the final with a 25-11, 25-17 win over Logansport in the first round. Caston topped Lewis Cass 25-15, 25-11 in their first-round match.
Logansport beat Lewis Cass 25-23, 15-25, 15-13 in the consolation match.
Pioneer will travel to Caston for their Hoosier North meeting on Aug. 24. That will be a best-of-five set match.