GREENFIELD — Idle for a solid week, the New Palestine Dragons were a bundle of nervous energy heading into Thursday night’s Class 4A Sectional 9 quarterfinals.
Once they shook off some rust, however, it was business as usual, defeating Richmond in a 3-0 sweep to advance into Saturday’s semifinals.
“It was just a long time. I was ready to play. We had four days of practice in a row, and we never have that,” New Palestine head coach Kelli Whitaker remarked on her team’s layoff. “We’ve just been champing at the bit, ready to get out here.”
The Dragons (25-6) last played a match Oct. 5 at home against rival Mt. Vernon, losing in five sets. Their time away showed in spurts against Richmond, but the Dragons powered through a few rough patches to win 25-14, 25-21, 25-21.
New Palestine will face Mt. Vernon in a rematch during the first semifinal Saturday at 11 a.m. Connersville and Pendleton Heights play in the other semifinal at 12:30 p.m. with the championship at 7 p.m.
In their first game against Richmond (22-10), the Dragons were locked in seven early ties before putting together substantial runs of 6-2 and 6-0 to take a 1-0 match lead.
In the second, Richmond charged out to a 3-1 advantage and hung close to make it 23-21 in favor of the Dragons late.
“It was a little tighter than I thought it would be. I felt like we played tight and that we were a little bit nervous,” Whitaker said. “But it’s survive and advance. That’s what matters.”
Back-to-back errors by Richmond sealed the second set, while the third was decided by New Palestine’s attacking senior duo of Allison Dennemann and Mia Long.
Dennemann finished the night with 14 kills and 10 digs for a double-double. Mia Long had a team-high 18 kills and 13 digs to go with three total blocks.
“We know that none of these games are going to be easy. Of course, we all had nerves tonight, but it wasn’t awful,” Long said. “We really tried to focus on our energy because we knew the first two games it was a little slow on our side. We knew Richmond wasn’t going to give us a game without a fight.”
Sydney Robertson set the tone for the Dragons with 37 assists as New Palestine erased a 14-11 deficit in the third set with a 6-1 run to lead 20-16.
Richmond narrowed the gap 21-20, but kills by Dennemann and Long put it away.
“I have a lot of confidence in my group, and I had patience that we were going to pull it out and play our game to finish it,” Whitaker said. “I really did feel like we were going to do that, and we did.”
Last year, the Dragons, who competed in 3A, reached the state tournament’s final four while claiming sectional and regional titles. Now, that they’re warmed up, Long and the Dragons are hoping for another October to remember.
“Just like last year, we’ve been training for this the entire season,” Long said. “We know it’s going to be tough because we’ve stepped up to 4A. It’s going to be a tough road to get as far as we want to go, but we’re definitely ready.”
New Palestine 3, Richmond 0
Kills: Allison Dennemann 14, Mia Long 18 (NP). Assists: Sydney Robertson 37 (NP). Digs: Lydia Jones 11, A. Dennemann 10, M. Long 13 (NP). Blocks: M. Long 3 (NP).