INDIANAPOLIS — As the points piled up late Saturday night, the crowd draped in red grew restless. The anticipation overflowed along the New Palestine sideline inside the gymnasium at Crispus Attucks.
All eyes shifted to New Palestine junior star Allison Dennemann, who stood tranquil, focused and ready to deliver game point on her final serve and the team’s 3-0 sweep.
Once she dropped the hammer on a pinpoint ace, her 12th in the Class 3A Sectional 27 championship against Indianapolis Manual, the celebration began — a party decades in the making.
“27 years! It’s been that long,” New Palestine head coach Kelli Whitaker exclaimed with tearful joy in her eyes. “When I was a player, I never won it. It feels really good to finally get it. It feels like it’s a big community win.”
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The seventh-ranked Dragons (25-10) last sectional title unfolded long before any of the players were born. Coach Whitaker even joked with her team during the tournament, explaining how she was only “1 year old the last time” New Palestine hoisted the trophy.
Last crowned sectional champion in 1989, the world has changed drastically since the program captured it second title. From the invention of the internet to the Chicago Cubs reaching the World Series, the Dragons believe it was their time. They were through waiting.
“At the beginning of the season we picked our goals. Our top goal was winning sectional,” New Palestine senior setter Kara Morris said. “We’re making history at the school.”
Close in the past, the title marks the team’s third overall with the first coming way back in 1982. As a player Whitaker aimed to topple the drought before graduating as a Dragon in 2006 and heading to Indiana State the next year, but to no avail.
As a coach, she fittingly presented her team with the long-awaited trophy, happily raised above her head with the fans chanting, “We are proud of you!”
New Palestine rewrote history by winning nine straight sets in the sectional tournament. Efficient and poised to finish their mission, the Dragons knocked off Indianapolis Herron 3-0 on Thursday night, allowing no more than nine points.
Against Manual in the finals on Saturday, the Redskins could only scrape and claw for eight points as best in the first set against the Dragons’ collective performance.
The true test faced New Palestine in the sectional semifinals on Saturday morning against No. 13 Bishop Chatard (13-24) as the past and present collided. Losing to the Trojans 3-0 in the sectional finals last year, the Dragons zeroed in in anticipation of the rematch.
“Really, everything we had done up until this point was to prepare us for Chatard,” Whitaker said. “It paid off. I thought we played one of our very best games this season against them.”
It required fortitude, however, as the Trojans pulled ahead 15-14 in the first set and led three times while tying the Dragons seven times.
A crucial 3-0 run behind a pair of Dennemann kills and one from Mia Long sealed New Palestine’s 27-25 win.
“The first game, it was really close,” Morris said. “That was the key game. We had to win. If we would have lost the first one, it would have changed everything.”
The victory instead boosted the team as the Dragons held the Trojans to 25-14 in both the second and third sets to win 3-0.
“We knew they were a very big obstacle in the tournament, and to come out and play like that, we were just very focused on ourselves and our own play,” Long said. “Once we won that match in the morning, it was one more game to reach our goal. We weren’t going to let it get away.”
Dennemann led the team with 24 kills, including the semifinal clincher to send the Dragons into their second straight sectional finals appearance. The University of Pacific recruit added 19 digs in the match while Long followed with 10 digs and 12 kills.
Morris had 35 assists, six digs and Jordan Brittsan converted five kills and Lydia Jones had 11 digs as the Trojans tried to overpower the Dragons at the net.
“Jordan stepped up big for us. Kara played an outstanding game. She is a huge part of why we are successful. She chases down everything and delivers a great ball,” Whitaker said. “Our passing game was the best it’s ever been, and that was huge. We knew it would come down to passing because they’re a good serving team.”
The Dragons were better, and now they have a date with the No. 11 Cardinal Ritter (24-9), tonight on the road at 7 p.m. Ritter won the Sectional 28 title in nine straight sets.
“It’s the third time in New Palestine history to win sectional. It’s been so long. It’s crazy,” Dennemann said. “It would be remarkable to be the first team to win regional. I think we have a good chance, I think. If we come out and play like we did against Chatard, we can go far in this tournament. It’s really exciting to think about.”
Class 3A Sectional 27
New Palestine 3, Bishop Chatard 0
Allison Dennemann 19 digs, 24 kills, ace, 3 block assists; Mia Long 12 kills, 10 digs, 3 aces; Jordan Brittsan 5 kills, 3 block assists; Kara Morris 35 assists, 6 digs, ace; Lydia Jones 11 digs.
New Palestine 3, Indianapolis Manual 0
Allison Dennemann 12 aces, 8 kills, 5 digs; Mia Long 6 kills, 6 digs, ace; Maddie Wampner 5 aces; Audrey VanderWal 6 aces; Lydia Jones 4 aces, 9 digs; Kara Morris 5 kills, 20 assists.