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  • Val T.

‘We’re peaking at the right time:’ Pioneer defies odds, beats Churubusco for regional title

Next: vs. Muncie Burris, 4 p.m. this Saturday at Frankfort in 2A semistate


Sports Editor, RTC

The Pioneer volleyball team won the Class 2A Rochester regional title with a 26-24, 21-25, 20-25, 25-21, 15-9 win over Churubusco Saturday. Pioneer improved to 24-13 and will play Muncie Burris in the semistate at 4 p.m. Saturday at Frankfort.

Pioneer junior volleyball player Keirsten Nies is an avid reader, and when her team’s match against Churubusco at the Class 2A Rochester regional final was over, she was asked if she had read a book that would sum up her team’s journey.

She replied with David Goggins’ “Can’t Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds,” a memoir about a man who overcame poverty, depression and two broken legs to become a Navy SEAL, an Army Ranger and an Air Force Tactical Air Controller.

“He was us,” Nies said. “We have had so many ups and downs. I feel like we’ve been through a war this season.”

If other Pioneer teams were unstoppable forces, this team might have defied the odds as they pulled off a stunning 26-24, 21-25, 20-25, 25-21, 15-9 win to win their ninth regional title in school history.

And that win came mere hours after toppling previously unbeaten South Central (Union Mills) 20-25, 25-19, 25-21, 25-21 in the semifinals.

Pioneer (24-13) will play No. 1 Muncie Burris (29-4) in the semistate. Start time is 4 p.m. this Saturday at Frankfort. Semistate tickets are $12.

The fifth set against Churubusco was tied 4-4 when Mackenzie Rogers put down a tip from the middle and then followed with a stuff block to start a 6-1 run that included a kill from Brooklyn Borges from the 10-foot line and two Blair Grigsby kills off the block to make it 10-5.

Time was running out on Churubusco. Kylie Attinger’s kill off an overpass made it 13-8.

It ended on a service error long from Sydnee Przemielewski on match point that caused a Pioneer dogpile on their side of the net.

The team’s seniors were on the state title-winning team in 2020, but most watched from the bench. They lost a 1A sectional final to Southwood in 2021 and a 2A sectional semifinal to Wabash last year. This title was on them.

“Honestly, it feels amazing,” Attinger said. “After that two-year dry spot of losing sectionals and then us coming in and winning regionals, especially in five sets, it feels great. … Honestly, I think we just ran on adrenaline. I was not tired, and I don’t think any of the rest of the team was tired either.”

Coach Rod Nies embraced Keirsten, his daughter, before raising his arms and walking in the direction of the Pioneer fan section.

“It never gets old,” coach Nies said. “We’re peaking at the right time.”

For Keirsten Nies, the win was especially emotional. She said she noticed he was intense like the players in the biggest matches but “mellow” and more patient during the tougher parts of the season.

“It feels amazing,” Keirsten Nies said. “The opportunity to do it in itself is amazing, with these girls. But I get to do it with my dad, so it’s just amazing.”

Rogers led Pioneer with a quadruple-double: 13 kills, 15 assists, 15 digs and 14 serves received. Elizabeth Rance and Attinger had nine kills each, Borges had eight, Grigsby had seven, and Nies had six.

Pioneer lost 13 matches during the regular season. The other teams in the regional had 17 losses combined. Rogers reflected on overcoming the tougher moments they encountered during the season.

“I think we’ve really struggled,” Rogers said. “We’ve been an up-and-down team all year, and I just think that we really got over the hump tonight, and I’m super proud of us. I mean, we really focused, and we did it.”

Adeline Cripe had 34 digs and 19 serves received. Grigsby had 11 digs and 25 serves received. Rance had 27 digs and 11 serves received. Nies had 22 digs and 12 serves received.

Rogers, Nies (14) and Grigsby (12) all reached double figures in assists in Pioneer’s unique three-setter, three-middle system.

“It feels great,” Cripe, the ubiquitous libero, said. “It’s unbelievable. It was rough, but we wanted it, and we had to fight for it. So it wasn’t just going to be given.”

Churubusco relied on Indiana recruit Ella Boersema, a 6-2 middle hitter; Przemielewski, a senior and force as an outside hitter; and sophomore Kelsee Coil, an athletic hitter from the right.

The Lady Eagles had a set point in the first set at 24-23, but a Borges block led to Churubusco getting out of system and being called for a double-hit.

Then Przemielewski missed long aiming for the deep corner. That gave Pioneer a set point.

After a Churubusco timeout, Rogers set up Borges for a kill to end the set.

Churubusco went on a 7-2 run in the second to open a 19-11 lead that drained Pioneer of its timeouts.

Back-to-back Grigsby aces, a Rogers ace and a Rogers service winner got Pioneer back within 22-20, but a Rogers service error, a Coil kill and and Orth kill evened the match.

A 10-3 Churubusco run in the third set turned a 12-9 deficit into a 19-15 lead. Przemielewski had two aces and Grace Lawson capped it with a service winner.

Pioneer would close within 23-20 after a pair of hitting errors from Przemielewski, one on a roll shot and the other that floated wide on a free ball. But Gabrielle Orth’s kill off the Pioneer block and a Coil stuff closed out the set.

Churubusco was one set away from their first regional title, but as it turned out, they never led at any point in either of the final two sets.

Coach Nies was reassuring, telling the players in the huddle that “we need to play like we play.”

“He’s always there for us,” Keirsten Nies said. “He’s mellowed out when he knows that we’re struggling.”

Early kills from Borges and Attinger gave Pioneer a 3-0 lead. Attinger and Race had kills as part of a four-point run as the lead ballooned to 7-2.

At 9-5, Pioneer surged again with a Borges kill from the outside and a Borges stuff offsetting a Boersema stuff block. Attinger used her left hand for a kill and then her right. A Grigsby service winner made it 16-6 and forced Churubusco coach Melissa Winters to call her final timeout.

A Przemielewski kill error and a Lawson double hit on a set attempt out of system made it 18-6.

Churubusco went on a 9-0 run but kills from Rogers and Attinger and a Keristen Nies ace made it 22-16.

Churubusco had another three-point run to get within 24-21, but the set ended with a Boersema whiff from the right side. The match was going to a fifth set.

Pioneer eliminates South Central

Rogers led a balanced Pioneer attack with 11 kills against South Central. Rance, Grigsby and Borges had 10 kills each.

Rogers also led Pioneer with her three aces, three blocks and 21 assists, and she also had eight digs and serves received.

Cripe vacuumed up 22 digs and 24 serves received. Rance had 21 digs and nine serves received. Nies had 13 assists, eight digs and 14 serves received. Grigsby had eight assists, 13 digs and 16 serves received.

Tatum Wade had 22 kills, but no other Lady Satellite player had more than six kills. Wade, South Central’s 5-10 powerhouse hitter, had 30 kills when South Central beat Pioneer in five sets in Royal Center in their regular season meeting on Oct. 2.

A Rogers kill off the block and a Nies ace evened the match.

In the third set, an Attinger kill out of the middle and through the block and a Rance kill in transition after a South Central free ball closed out the set.

Rogers and Attinger teamed up for a stuff block on match point to close it out.

The match also included an attack over the net from Grigsby with her foot. South Central was able to dig it over the net during the rally, but Pioneer went on to win the point.

Pioneer def. Churubusco, 26-24, 21-25, 20-25, 25-21, 15-9 (final)


Elizabeth Rance – 9 kills, 27 digs, 11 serves received; Blair Grigsby – 7 kills, 2 aces, 1 block, 11 digs, 12 assists, 25 serves received; Mackenzie Rogers – 13 kills, 1 ace, 15 digs, 15 assists, 14 serves received; Brooklyn Borges – 8 kills, 4 blocks, 5 digs; Kylie Attinger – 9 kills, 1 block, 7 digs; Keirsten Nies – 6 kills, 1 ace, 1 block, 22 digs, 14 assists, 12 serves received; Adeline Cripe – 34 digs, 19 serves received

Pioneer def. South Central (Union Mills), 20-25, 25-19, 25-21, 25-21 (semifinal)\


Elizabeth Rance – 10 kills, 2 aces, 21 digs, 9 serves received; Blair Grigsby – 10 kills, 13 digs, 8 assists, 16 serves received; Mackenzie Rogers – 11 kills, 3 aces, 3 blocks, 8 digs, 21 assists, 7 serves received; Brooklyn Borges – 10 kills, 1 ace, 1 block, 2 digs; Kylie Attinger – 5 kills, 3 blocks, 2 digs; Keirsten Nies – 4 kills, 1 ace, 1 block, 8 digs, 13 assists, 14 serves received; Adeline Cripe – 1 ace, 22 digs, 24 serves received; Lois Layer – 2 digs, 2 serves received

The Pioneer volleyball seniors pose with the regional trophy at the Rochester High School gym after beating South Central (Union Mills) in the semifinals and Churubusco in the final to win the Class 2A regional title Saturday. From left – Elizabeth Rance, Mackenzie Rogers, Brooklyn Borges, Adeline Cripe (holding trophy), manager Kenny Denny, Blair Grigsby, Kylie Attinger and Emma Sells.

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