Southwood beats Pioneer in 3, ends Lady Panthers’ streak of 15 straight sectionals
BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS
Sports Editor, RTC
WABASH –- Pioneer volleyball coach Rod Nies and Southwood coach Tom Finicle shared an embrace after their Class 1A, Sectional 52 final at Southwood Saturday.
It was something of a knowing embrace.
Southwood had just beaten Pioneer 25-22, 25-20, 25-23 to end Pioneer’s run of 15 consecutive sectional titles.
If anybody could comprehend Pioneer’s run, it’s Finicle. And based on his reaction afterwards, nobody figures to be rooting harder for Southwood moving forward than Nies.
“Finicle’s a hell of a coach, and if there is a guy in the state of Indiana that deserves a state championship, it is Tom Finicle,” an emotional Nies said afterwards. “He is a huge mentor of mine. I got to coach an Indiana All-Star (team) with him back in 2010, and I loved every second of it. The guy is a class act, and his program is a class act, and I wish his girls the best of luck and that coaching staff because they deserve it.”
The sectional title for Southwood (28-5) was their 25th in school history, but it was their first since 2014.
Prior to that, Southwood achieved the long-term volleyball excellence that Pioneer did. With Southwood in Class 2A and Pioneer in Class 1A, their successes often overlapped.
From 1996-2014, Southwood won 17 sectionals in 19 years. They won seven consecutive regionals from 2008-14, and in 2014, Southwood was the Class 2A state runner-up.
When asked later, Finicle scoffed at the “mentor” claim. Finicle said that if anything, he tries to copy what Nies does.
“Rod and I go way back,” Finicle said. “I love Rod. I do. He works hard. He has a great concept of the game. His kids work hard for them. They’ll be back next year. … I love what Rod does. I love how Rod approaches the game. I love Rod. Period.”
Pioneer had not lost a sectional match since dropping the sectional final to West Central in 2005. From 2006-20, Pioneer not only won 15 sectionals but also eight regionals and two semistates.
In 2020, Pioneer broke through and won the Class 1A state title. They started their tournament run with a win in four sets over Southwood in the sectional quarterfinal.
But Southwood succeeded at getting the ball to top hitter Marissa Metzger at the necessary moments. Metzger led Southwood with 12 kills.
“We wanted to get a double-block on her, but we struggled setting the block, and we struggled closing,” Nies said of defending Metzger.
Southwood led 24-18 in the third set and had six match points. But Southwood’s Ella Haupert missed long on a serve, and Pioneer’s Mackenzie Rogers won a joust at the net to make it 24-20. Then came a Hailey Cripe tip and a Cripe ace.
When Southwood’s Mya Denney was called for a double hit, Pioneer was one point away from tying it, but Ryley Barney won a joust at the net to put the match away.
Nies credited Southwood for their defense.
“They just outscrapped us,” Nies said. “Their defense was much better than ours.”
The first set was tied 19-19 after a Cripe kill and a Carly Whitesel tip error into the net, but Southwood scored the next four points. Cripe and Rogers put down kills, and Mandee Weisenburger had a tip to make it 24-22, but a Pioneer service error ended the set.
Southwood went on a 6-0 run to jump out to a 9-4 lead in the second set. Southwood still led 23-16 before Pioneer scored four straight points on a Brooklyn Borges stuff block, a Grace Drake kill error, a Weisenburger tip and an Adeline Cripe ace to get within 23-20. A Denney kill and an Alaina Winer joust win at the net reversed the momentum and gave Southwood a 2-0 lead.
Late in the second set, Nies went away from a two-setter offense to a one-setter offense. Rogers was the setter.
Hailey Cripe and Weisenburger led Pioneer (22-12) with 10 kills each. Hailey Cripe also had two aces, 14 digs and 18 serves received. Rogers had 17 assists and 11 digs. Emma Novaski had 10 serves received. Adeline Cripe had 13 digs.
Finicle said he was concerned with Cripe’s unique ability to hit down the line and credited Drake, Barney and Denney for their net presence.
“We knew we had to get a legitimate block up on her because if we didn’t get a block up, she was going to absolutely wear the line out,” Finicle said. “She’s better down the line than she is crosscourt.”
This marked the first time a Pioneer girls sports team had lost prior to the state championship round since a loss to Morgan Township in the 2019 volleyball regional.
The loss marked the first time Cripe had ever lost a sectional game or match. It also marked the first time Pioneer had lost a sectional match or game in a girls team sport since a loss to South Newton in the 2018 basketball sectional.
“Definitely not the way you want to go out,” Hailey Cripe said later. “You know, we had our ups and downs this season. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
Pioneer’s sectional run wasn’t the only streak that Southwood snapped Saturday. In their semifinal earlier in the day, Southwood beat Caston 25-9, 25-13, 25-15 to end Caston’s 11-match winning streak heading into the postseason.
Pioneer reached the final with a 24-26, 25-23, 25-15, 25-16 win over Northfield.
But alas, Pioneer’s extraordinary sectional streak ended a few hours later.
“I hear it every year from the senior class,” Nies said. “That senior class, when you get that sectional win, they always say, ‘We’re glad we got that done because we don’t want to be the senior class that loses it.’ So I think that put some added pressure on us probably, especially when the number gets bigger and bigger and bigger. Teams want to knock you off.
“We won state last year, and this year, we seemed to get everyone’s best game.”
Southwood def. Pioneer, 25-22, 25-20, 25-23
Mackenzie Rogers – 4 kills, 1 block, 11 digs, 17 assists; Brooklyn Borges – 5 kills, 4 digs; Mandee Weisenburger – 10 kills, 3 digs, 3 serves received; Hailey Cripe – 10 kills, 2 aces, 2 blocks, 14 digs, 18 serves received; Kennedy Corn – 1 kill, 2 blocks, 4 digs; Adeline Cripe – 1 ace, 13 digs, 7 serves received; Emma Novaski – 1 ace, 9 digs, 10 serves received; Keirsten Nies – 1 block, 5 digs, 2 assists, 1 serve received; Blair Grigsby – 5 digs, 6 assists; Carlie Morris – 2 digs, 1 assist, 1 serve received
Watch entire match here: