GREENFIELD — Two nights after dropping a fifth and deciding set to one of the state’s top volleyball programs, Greenfield-Central faced another dramatic conclusion Thursday. This time to an unranked, yet determined, conference and county rival.
And this time, the Cougars came out on top, surviving New Palestine 25-21, 22-25, 25-27, 25-15, 15-13 to earn their first Hoosier Heritage Conference victory of the year. Tuesday in the HHC opener, 3A No. 1 Delta got past the Cougars 25-22, 19-25, 25-19, 20-25, 15-13.
“That’s part of volleyball,” G-C coach Kim Wildman said Thursday after edging the visiting Dragons. “You play teams better than you, you play teams worse than you. The challenge is always to play at that same level and draw that same energy night-in and night-out. We were having a little trouble doing that tonight.”
Led by freshman standout Allison Dennemann (match-high 23 kills), New Palestine kept coming back on the Cougars, including a rally in Set 3 in which the red-and-black trailed 18-10. One loss away from defeat, G-C dominated Set 4 and surged ahead 11-4 in the final stanza.
The Dragons pulled even at 13-13, but consecutive kills from G-C’s Jordan Bunch and Rachel Irbe ended the evening in the home team’s favor.
“It was just a whirlwind,” New Palestine coach Kelli Whitaker said. “It was a bloodbath. We didn’t let up (after Set 3). We just started slow every game, and so we had to find a way to dig ourselves out of that hole and we did most of the time.
“But we can’t do that to ourselves. It’s too hard to dig out against a good team. It could have gone either way in that final set. It’s disappointing, but I’m proud of the fight and heart we showed.”
Delta — one of three ranked HHC volleyball programs along with 4A No. 9 New Castle and 4A No. 13 New Castle — edged the Cougars Tuesday despite 25 kills and 21 digs from Irbe, the reigning Hancock County Player of the Year.
The junior outside hitter was a force again Thursday, compiling 21 kills and 11 digs. She had four kills early in Set 1 as G-C raced to a 16-7 advantage. In Set 4, when the Cougars retook control, Irbe was huge: seven kills, three digs and an ace.
G-C’s depth, though, was just as much a factor. Jordan Bunch and Lauran Banton combined for 16 kills. Banton, a sophomore called up this week from the junior varsity, added three key blocks.
“We switched the lineup in the fourth set and put (Banton) in the front row and she was able to get a big block up on 19 (Dennemann) ... and definitely swayed the momentum toward us,” Wildman said. “She definitely did a great job for us.”
Libero Caitey Sosnowski (22 digs) anchored the defense. Courtney Marchello was on point with 37 assists. Maddie Wise had seven blocks for G-C. Bunch (11 digs) and Samara Fletcher (seven digs) aided Sosnowski in the back row.
“Overall, it took a team effort to get us through that. It was definitely a little bit of a challenge.”
Taylor Lawson (10 kills), Kara Morris (24 assists) and Brianna Kilgore (20 digs) were key contributors for a New Palestine squad that hopes to have the services of outside hitter Katlyn Keele by time it meets Greenfield-Central again in the county tourney on Oct. 11. Whitaker said Keele (knee) could return to the court in two weeks. In the county draw announced Thursday, host G-C will meet New Palestine in one semifinal and Mt. Vernon-Eastern Hancock makes up the other semi.
“We always look forward to playing them,” Whitaker said of G-C, adding that having another chance to play the Cougars didn’t take the sting off of Thursday’s loss. “We want every game, not just county.”
The Cougars are the defending county champs, beating the Dragons in the championship match after falling to NP in this regular season, conference affair. With the possible return of Keele, plus the continued emergence of freshman outside hitter Dennemann, the county semifinal could be another fun-filled show.
“Anytime you’re playing a rival school, teams are going to play up,” Wildman said. “And we always get New Pal’s best. Their little freshman is a great player. I saw her when she was in 12s at (Team Indiana), but I haven’t seen her in a couple years. I’ve been hearing about her, and she’s a great little player. Great foundation for them to build for their future on.”