GREENFIELD — This time, Mt. Vernon has no reason to be nervous. The Marauders have been here before.
After repeating as Sectional 9 champions Saturday at Greenfield-Central, Mt. Vernon head coach Eric Bulmahn had a calm, cool demeanor following his team’s impressive 3-0 sweep of New Castle — a team which beat the Marauders 3-1 earlier this season.
Playing the ninth toughest schedule in Indiana among all classes, according to the Z-Ratings, Bulmahn has grown accustomed to intense, high-pressure volleyball. Playing in one of the strongest conferences in the state doesn’t hurt, either. Five teams were ranked in the Hoosier Heritage Conference this season.
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But as he gazed at his players taking pictures with friends and loved ones on the Greenfield-Central basketball court after the win, Bulmahn appeared confident when asked about his squad’s next opponent — fifth-ranked Cathedral, which won a state and national title last season.
“I am so glad we played Cathedral at Cathedral to start the year,” Bulmahn said of his team’s 3-0 loss. “Now when we go in, it won’t be ‘oh wow, look who we are playing.’ We’ve been there. I don’t think they will be wowed by that.”
Last season, Cathedral held off an early surge from Mt. Vernon to eventually win the regional crown, 3-0 (25-20, 25-18, 25-10). The Fighting Irish are 27-4 this season and beat the Marauders 25-14, 27-25, 25-11 on Aug. 15.
No. 10 Mt. Vernon (27-7), however, is currently as confident as ever. It showed on Saturday. Six sets, six wins — the closest being a 25-17 victory against Greenfield-Central in semifinal play.
Senior Julia Wayer led a tremendous defensive effort with 24 digs in the win against No. 13 New Castle, while junior Grace Hurst and senior Maddie Keerns added 13 and six, respectively, as the Marauders topped the Trojans 25-12, 25-14, 25-11.
“We were just really prepared,” Keerns said, a defensive specialist. “Our coach prepared us really well for what was coming. We really worked on defending and executing perfectly. (Repeating) means the world to us.”
Added Bulmahn: “Our defense is our backbone; it carries us.”
The offense has been just fine, too, and was again over the weekend.
Seniors Jaclyn Bulmahn and Ashton Barr, who is actually from New Castle, combined for 26 kills. Bulmahn had 20 in the semifinal contest against the Cougars. Barr transferred to Mt. Vernon as a sophomore and been a starter ever since.
Mt. Vernon used fast starts to quicksand New Castle on Saturday night. The first set, it was an 11-3 lead. In set two, a similar 10-4 advantage. The Marauders were a little slower in the third frame, though, but used a 10-2 run to seal the win.
“If we are on, we are on,” Keerns said. “Our defense can really start our offense”
New Castle’s 6-foot-4 freshman Melani Shaffmaster, who is verbally committed to Minnesota, struggled to gain traction after repeated blocks from the Marauders net dwellers and had several misfires before eventually finding a small rhythm. She finished with 11 kills.
“Big things are in store for her,” Keerns said of Shaffmaster. “But everytime they came with a big swing, we came right back with one.”
Trojans senior Morgan Burns added eight kills, while senior Karleigh Wilson led the team with 15 digs.
Junior Meridan Eads led the Marauders with 19 assists as Barr added 12 in a balanced effort. Barr also had five blocks, while senior Abby Anderson added three.
“The whole team played together,” Bulmahn said. “I was able to step back. They were all dialed in, and I didn’t have to say anything.”
He will need the same effort tonight at home in regional play.
Cathedral boasts the 11th toughest schedule in the state and has losses to No. 3 Crown Point, No. 2 Providence, No. 15 Lawrence North and No. 7 Avon this year.
Mt. Vernon has beaten Lawrence North (3-1) this season.
Senior Nia Robinson leads the Fighting Irish with 505 kills. But Keerns, and the stingy Marauders defense, isn’t scared.
“We are hoping for a different outcome this year and are going to kick it into gear,” Keerns said.
Mt. Vernon 3, New Castle 0
MV – Barr 14 kills, 3 aces, 5 blocks, 12 assists; J. Bulmahn 12 kills; Wayer 24 digs; Hurst 13 digs; Anderson 3 blocks