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  • Val T.

Pioneer sweeps Wabash, wins 18th sectional volleyball title

Seniors combine for 42 kills as Lady Panthers get ‘monkey off our back’


BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS

Sports Editor, RTC

The Pioneer volleyball team won the Class 2A, Sectional 36 title with a 25-18, 25-11, 25-15 win over Wabash Saturday. The sectional title is the 18th in school history but their first in Class 2A in 25 years.


ROYAL CENTER — Everybody can seemingly play everywhere for the Pioneer volleyball team, and it led to its first Class 2A sectional volleyball title in 25 years Saturday.

Pioneer took down Wabash 25-18, 25-11, 25-15 Saturday to win their 18th sectional title in school history but their first in Class 2A since 1998. Pioneer won a sectional in 1972 in the pre-class era and 15 consecutive Class 1A sectional titles from 2006-20.

They lost a Class 1A sectional final to Southwood in 2021, and they fell to Wabash in the sectional semifinals in Class 2A in 2022.

Brooklyn Borges puts down the kill on match point that gave Pioneer a 25-18, 25-11, 25-15 win over Wabash in the Class 2A, Sectional 36 final Saturday. (photo courtesy of www.dabudman.com)


Now they make another addition to the sectional trophy case.

“It seems like it’s been forever since we’ve won a sectional,” coach Rod Nies said. “I was very proud of how the girls came out and competed tonight. I’m just happy to get that monkey off our back. It just seemed like we were in a rut with these sectionals

But determined to play with enthusiasm, their efficient beating of the Lady Apaches took exactly one hour.

“It just felt good to come out here and play how we know how to play,” senior Elizabeth Rance said.

Mackenzie Rogers led with 12 kills, Brooklyn Borges had 10, Rance had seven, and Blair Grigsby and Kylie Attinger had six each. Of the team’s 44 kills, 42 came from seniors.

Junior Keirsten Nies led with five aces and 18 assists, and she added 11 digs. Senior libero Adeline Cripe had 19 digs and 17 serves received and a kill – a rarity for a libero that drew an enthusiastic celebration from her teammates – that made it 5-1 in the third set.

“It feels great,” Cripe said. “It’s a great team win. We did great. We came out, and we wanted it.”

Grigsby added 13 digs, and Rance had 11.

Rogers had 14 assists, seven digs and seven serves received to go with her hitting.

“To have more energy than they did,” Grigsby said of the strategy against Wabash. “We knew they would have a lot of energy, so we made sure we came out with a lot of energy. … Celebrate as much as possible after every point, and you don’t let the bad points get to you.”

Rance said the key is to appreciate your teammates.

“You have to get excited for each other,” Rance said. “Your hit isn’t without your set and your pass. So just knowing and praising those people who give you those, it just changes everything.”

Pioneer, who beat Winamac in three sets in the semifinals earlier Saturday, improved to 22-13, and they will play No. 3 South Central (Union Mills) (32-0) in a regional semifinal at Rochester at 12:30 p.m. Saturday. Churubusco will face off with Illiana Christian in the first semifinal at 10:30 a.m., and the winners return at 7 p.m. for the regional final.

Wabash finished 14-17.

The first set was tied 11-11 before Pioneer went on a 7-1 run. Two Rogers kills sandwiched around a Keirsten Nies stuff block started the run, and Attinger had consecutive stuffs to cap the run. An Attinger kill and a Nies stuff closed it out.

Pioneer then scored the first eight points of the second set and built the lead to 14-2. Nies started the set with aces on two of the first three points, and Rogers went down the line from the opposite for a kill. She also had back-to-back kills that made it 11-1, and Grigsby had a kill that made it 14-2.

Pioneer started the third set with a 7-1 run, and they went on another 8-0 run to expand the lead to 16-4. Rance started that run with a kill, Borges put away a Wabash overpass, Grigsby had a kill, Nies put down a roll shot, and Rance had a clean ace to cap the rally.

A Borges kill inside the left sideline ended the match.

Pioneer runs a system described as a three-setter, three-middle offense. Nies, Rogers and Grigsby are all capable setters. When working properly, the opponent does not know where the set is coming from, and there are two outsides who can also hit.

“We run a three-setter, three-middle,” Attinger said. “I think it’s really to just throw the defense off and the setter on the other team off and the refs off honestly too because they don’t know who’s setting, and you can’t call ‘back row’ because they don’t know if they’re front row or back row. Our team is so versatile. I go left, middle and right … so nobody’s in the same position.”

Quipped a smiling Rance: “Sometimes I don’t know where my setter is. … It’s just basically very confusing, but once you get the hang of it and play in it, it’s really fun.”

Coach Nies said establishing the middle hitters early allows them to exploit their versatility.

“We wanted to focus on getting our middles running tonight,” coach Nies said. “Mackenzie Rogers, we move her around a lot. We have her hit on the outside, on the left side. She’ll hit right side, and she’ll also hit in the middle. So we move her around. Same way with Brooklyn Borges. Kylie Attinger, same way. … I like the versatility. The girls are playing well.

“We’re going to celebrate tonight and have some fun and enjoy tomorrow and then we’ll get back to work on Monday and start preparing because that regional will be brutal.”

The group of seven seniors were in Muncie as freshmen watching their older teammates win a state title in 2020. Now they have their sectional title.

Win or lose, the seniors knew this was going to be their final match on their home floor.

“It was our last home game,” Attinger said. “We hosted sectionals. We knew if we didn’t bring that energy, we might not go home with the trophy. So we just had fun.”

“Extremely close,” Grigsby said of the seniors. “A lot of us have been playing together since second grade, and then others came in, and we’ve just been playing club together forever.”

Left: Pioneer senior Mackenzie Rogers sets up a teammate during the Lady Panthers’ 25-18, 25-11, 25-15 win over Wabash in the Class 2A, Sectional 36 final Saturday. Rogers had 12 kills and 14 assists. (photo courtesy of www.dabudman.com)


Second from Left: Pioneer’s Adeline Cripe serves during the Lady Panthers’ 25-18, 25-11, 25-15 win over Wabash in the Class 2A, Sectional 36 final at Pioneer Saturday. Cripe led Pioneer with 19 digs and 17 serves received. (photo courtesy of www.dabudman.com)


Second from Right: Pioneer’s Keirsten Nies serves during a 25-18, 25-11, 25-15 win over Wabash in the Class 2A, Sectional 36 final at Pioneer Saturday. Nies had a team-high five aces. (photo courtesy of www.dabudman.com)


Right: Blair Grigsby (5) reaches for a dig while Elizabeth Rance (2) and Adeline Cripe (32) watch during Pioneer’s 25-18, 25-11, 25-15 win during the Class 2A, Sectional 36 final at Pioneer Saturday. (photo courtesy of www.dabudman.com)


Semifinals

Pioneer started their day by putting down 19 aces in a 25-7, 25-5, 25-9 win over Winamac in the semifinals.

Keirsten Nies had six aces, and Cripe, Grigsby and Borges had three each. Eight different players had at least one ace,

Borges had seven kills, and Rance and Attinger had six each. Rance and Rogers had two blocks each. Cripe and Rogers had nine digs each. Nies had eight assists, Rogers had seven, and Grigsby had six. Grigsby also had six serves received.

Winamac stats were not made available to RTC.

Pioneer had beaten Winamac 25-13, 25-13, 25-10 in their regular season meeting on Sept. 21.

Winamac finished 2-26.

In the second semifinal, Wabash took out North Miami 25-19, 25-11, 13-25, 25-18. Bryleigh Boggs had 20 kills, nine digs and 12 serves received for the Lady Apaches.

Pioneer def. Wabash, 25-18, 25-11, 25-15 (final)

PIONEER STATS

Elizabeth Rance – 7 kills, 1 ace, 11 digs, 2 assists, 4 serves received; Blair Grigsby – 6 kills, 1 ace, 13 digs, 5 assists, 5 serves received; Mackenzie Rogers – 12 kills, 7 digs, 14 assists, 7 serves received; Brooklyn Borges – 10 kills, 5 digs; Kylie Attinger – 6 kills, 1 block; Keirsten Nies – 2 kills, 5 aces, 11 digs, 18 assists, 6 serves received; Adeline Cripe – 1 kill, 19 digs, 17 serves received; Lois Layer – 1 dig

Pioneer def. Winamac, 25-7, 25-5, 25-9 (semifinal)

PIONEER STATS

Elizabeth Rance – 6 kills, 1 ace, 2 blocks, 7 digs, 1 serve received; Blair Grigsby – 1 kill, 3 aces, 5 digs, 6 assists, 6 serves received; Mackenzie Rogers – 4 kills, 1 ace, 2 blocks, 9 digs, 7 assists, 2 serves received; Brooklyn Borges – 7 kills, 3 aces, 1 block, 2 digs; Kylie Attinger – 6 kills, 1 assist; Kamryn Newby – 1 kill, 1 ace, 1 dig; Kendalyn Farrer – 1 kills; Keirsten Nies – 3 kills, 6 aces, 7 digs, 8 assists, 3 serves received; Aspen Moolenaar – 1 ace; Adeline Cripe – 3 aces, 9 digs, 1 assist, 4 serves received; Ava Beasy – 1 dig, 2 serves received; Mackenzie Houser – 1 dig, 1 serve received; Addison Kennell – 2 digs, 1 serve received; Jocelyn Kain – 2 assists


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