Pioneer beats Lewis Cass in 3, advances to sectional semis
BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS
Sports Editor, RTC
ROYAL CENTER — The Pioneer volleyball team will have to exhibit good ball control if they want to have a long state tournament comparable to their 2018 state runner-up run and 2020 state title run, according to coach Rod Nies.
They got off to a good start with a 25-14, 25-11, 25-21 win over Lewis Cass in a Class 2A, Sectional 36 quarterfinal at Pioneer Thursday.
Already down two sets and trailing 16-6 in the third set, Lewis Cass rallied to get within 23-20, which forced Nies to burn his first timeout of the night.
Lewis Cass won the next point on a Maci Garland kill, but Lewis Cass’ Haley Miller was caleed for a double hit, and Brooklyn Borges ended with an ace on match point.
Brooklyn Borges led Pioneer with nine kills, Elizabeth Rance had seven kills, and Mackenzie Rogers had six. Pioneer had eight aces as a team, and Blair Grigsby had a team-high three.
Rogers had 11 assists, Keirsten Nies had seven, and Blair Grigsby had five.
Grigsby led with 12 digs, and Rance had eight.
“I think we’re the best team in 2A, but we’ve got to play like that,” Nies said. “We’ve got to continue to play with more energy out there on the floor. I told the girls … the bench can bring so much, but it’s got to start somewhere, and it’s got to be out there on the floor.
“If you noticed there when they kind of made that run there at the end, our energy was gone, so we’ve got to sustain that for the entire match,” Nies said. “I’m pretty pleased. I like how we played the first couple sets. We had some errors and that, but that’s to be expected, but the girls didn’t hang their heads and start to get down on themselves. They picked themselves up and went back at it.”
Pioneer improved to 20-13 and will face off with Winamac (2-25) in the semifinals at 11 a.m. Saturday. Wabash and North Miami, a winner in three sets over Rochester, will meet in the second semifinal at 1 p.m., and the winners return at 6 p.m. for the sectional final.
Pioneer led 18-14 in the first set before finishing on a 7-0 run. Borges had two kills during that run, Grigsby had a kill on one and an ace, and Keirsten Nies capped it with a stuff block on set point.
Pioneer went on another 8-0 run with Adeline Cripe behind the service line in the second set to open a 9-2 lead. Rance started the run with an impressive flying kill, and Cripe had an ace and two service winners.
Rogers had an ace and three kills in the second set.
“I think just going in emotionally, we’re so hyped, and they did a great job giving the same amount of hype back,” Rogers said. “They didn’t roll over and die. They did a great job. Their bro (libero Emma Hildebrand) picked up a lot of stuff, and their back row just played really well today, and I think we’re still working out some stuff with setter-hitter connections. We’re trying to run our offense a little bit faster, and we’re trying to figure that out between Brooklyn and I and our middles. We’re just trying to find our middles, and I think they did a great job of just positioning their block and their defense and everything.”
Pioneer was coming off losses to South Central (Union Mills), Benton Central and West Lafayette last week.
“This past week has been fun but also really technical,” Rogers said. “And I think last week was a really good view for us of what our lowest is and how we can just move on from that and just play better than that for the rest of the season.”
Borges, Rance, Rogers and Kylie Attinger are all capable of attacking from the middle of the court.
“We want to try to establish the middle right off the get-go,” coach Nies said. “So that way, if we can establish those middles, we can open up our outsides. If our middles are doing a good job transitioning, transitioning is hard, and we’re able to pass the ball pretty decent, and that holds that other team’s middle blocker a little bit longer than what they’d probably like to hold.
“It all comes to our ball control. If we’re passing the ball, we’re going to be really tough. When we don’t pass very well, we struggle at times. I told the girls we just want to keep playing better each time we step out on the floor.”
Emma Sells did not play for Pioneer due to a labrum injury in her hip, and Nies said they are waiting for Sells to undergo an MRI before determining her future availability.
Freshman Lois Layer started in the back row.
Pioneer def. Lewis Cass, 25-14, 25-11, 25-21
Adeline Cripe – 1 ace, 1 assist, 6 digs; Blair Grigsby – 3 kills, 3 aces, 5 assists, 12 digs, 1 block; Brooklyn Borges – 9 kills, 1 ace, 2 digs; Keirsten Nies – 1 ace, 7 assists, 6 digs, 1 block; Kylie Attinger – 4 kills, 1 assist, 1 block; Elizabeth Rance – 7 kills, 1 ace, 8 digs; Lois Layer – 2 digs; Mackenzie Rogers – 6 kills, 1 ace, 11 assists, 6 digs, 1 block