INDIANAPOLIS — The environment was hostile. The momentum was difficult to corral, but the New Palestine Dragons never wavered.
Instead, they relied on their resolve and one another to achieve what no other program in school history has done before.
Just three days after capturing the team’s first sectional title in 27 years, the No. 7 Dragons (26-10) rallied back from a nine-point deficit in the fourth set on Tuesday night to power past the host No. 11 Cardinal Ritter Raiders 3-1 and straight into the record books.
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New Palestine defeated Cardinal Ritter 25-15, 22-25, 25-13, 27-25, to win the program’s first-ever regional title.
“It was very intense,” New Palestine head coach Kelli Whitaker remarked while donning her new regional championship T-shirt. “It’s quite unbelievable.
“I’m just really proud. We’ve never been a team that gives ups, and we didn’t tonight.”
Taunted by the Raiders’ student section throughout the night, the Dragons refused to let the noise in, especially junior Allison Dennemann, who was targeted numerous times.
Showered with chants of “overrated” and “she’s your only player,” Dennemann tuned out and locked in, firing 27 kills and recording 27 digs against an energetic and hard-hitting Raiders team.
“It was a battle. We just tried to focus on one point at a time and not letting past points get us down,” Dennemann said. “We tried to keep a positive attitude the entire match.”
Their confidence brimmed with a 25-15 first set win with Dennemann drilling the final kill and the last four points for the Dragons.
After dropping the second set 25-22, which they trailed nearly from the start, the Dragons answered the playful crowd’s assumptions in two words: Mia Long.
The junior outside hitter led the team with 30 kills while adding 23 digs and two aces in the match. Her seven kills in the set were crucial.
With Dennemann flying around the court to fend off repeated kill attempts by Cardinal Ritter’s Maria Emmick and Angeliqu Allen, Long stepped up to the net and put the Dragons on her back.
“She didn’t fold under the pressure. She kept swinging away and kept going. She picked the right moments,” Dennemann said. “She was incredible out there.”
Dennemann and libero Lydia Jones were relentless in their pursuits on defense. Jones had a team-high 32 digs while Kara Morris advanced their efforts with 62 assists.
Morris supplied game-point in the third set with an ace after Long’s kill put them up 24-13.
In the fourth set, however, the Raiders showed why they’ve won sixth consecutive sectional titles and were gunning for their fourth regional in six years.
New Palestine led 1-0 early in the fourth before Cardinal Ritter powered ahead 11-2 as Emmick, who plays club volleyball with Dennemann at Circle City, piled up five kills.
“If we went to the fifth, it would have been anyone’s game,” Dennemann said. “I don’t know how we would of responded. We needed to win that fourth.”
Dennemann kicked off the comeback with a kill, followed by three straight from Long. The duo worked in near unison to tie the game at 15-all.
Cardinal Ritter responded and took a 23-17 advantage, but the Dragons, who were mocked by the home crowd with chants of “beat the (Beech Grove) Hornets” … “(Speedway) Sparkplugs” … and “(Bishop Chatard) Trojans,” showed who they really were.
A 6-0 run tied the game at 23 and a kill by Long knotted it up at 25 before Dennemann swatted her team to a 26-25 lead. The final point came off a Cardinal Ritter error.
“It’s kind of surreal. It’s an incredible feeling. Being the first to win regional is the most exciting part,” Dennemann said. “I’m exhausted both emotionally and physically, and it’s only Tuesday.”
Next up is the Jasper Semistate on Saturday, deeper into uncharted territory.
“This gym was hostile. To come back with that in our ear was huge. We just did not give up,” Whitaker said. “We knew we could crawl back, but they had a huge lead.
“Volleyball is a huge game of momentum and energy, but we handled it. We got through it.”
Class 3A Regional 14
New Palestine 3, Cardinal Ritter 1
NP Stat Leaders: Allison Dennemann 27 kills, 27 digs; Mia Long 23 digs, 30 kills, 2 aces; Kara Morris 62 assists, 2 aces, 16 digs, 6 kills; Jordan Brittsan 4 digs, 5 kills; Lydia Jones 32 digs; Audrey Edwards 14 digs, kill.