By Josh Brown
Troy Daily News
NEW CARLISLE — Even though they were still winning matches, Tippecanoe volleyball coach Howard Garcia felt his Red Devils were limping to the finish line to close the regular season.
Wednesday’s district semifinal showed that the Devils have found their fire again.
Top-seeded Tippecanoe had little trouble in the Division II district semifinal round Wednesday at Tecumseh High School, sweeping the No. 9 Urbana Hillclimbers 25-11, 25-11, 25-7 to improve to 24-1 and advance to the district championship match for the third straight season.
After a five-set loss to division rival Troy on Oct. 2, Tippecanoe closed the regular season with a pair of wins and began the tournament with two more leading into Wednesday’s match, but Garcia still felt that the team wasn’t playing to its potential.
The performance against Urbana (10-15) definitely made him happy.
“I thought that, during the end of the season, we were playing a little bit up and down,” Garcia said. “We were winning matches, but not to the quality that we thought we could. So we put a little bit of intensity into the last two practices going over how to go against our opposing team. And it was not negotiable — this is the way they attack, this is the way they handle the ball, these are their openings — and guess what? The kids just blew me away. They did exactly what they needed to shut them down.”
And Tippecanoe’s top priority was to neutralize Urbana’s Emily Skelley, who had piled up 302 kills entering Wednesday’s play, and Camille McIntosh, who brought in 163 kills. The duo combined for only seven kills in the match.
“Their main weapons are (Skelley) and (McIntosh), and they could not respond because we were defending well and blocking well, and our attack was really crisp,” Garcia said. “We were handling the ball well and getting good swings, which I thought is because we brought the intensity up in practice.”
After that, the Devils wanted to use their service game to keep the Hillclimbers from mounting any kind of counterattack — and with 13 aces as a team, Tippecanoe accomplished that, as well.
“That was one of the things we talked about also, serving aggressive,” Garcia said. “We don’t believe in the punishment (serving aggressive), but we believe in the accountability. They pushed each other, and it worked. We were serving tough, and our serve receive was really good.
“The girls put their focus to what they were supposed to do and got their assignments done.”
In each set, the Devils had one big service run that put things out of reach immediately. In the first, Abby Hughes took over the serve with the score 9-4 and served 10 straight points, including three straight aces at one point to give the Devils a 1-0 lead. And in the second with Urbana hanging around at 17-11, Corinn Siefring put down a kill and then served the final seven points, including another stretch of three aces in a row to seal it.
And in Set 3, Kailtyn Husic capped off an early run of six straight to give Tippecanoe a 7-2 lead, Siefring served up eight in a row to take it to 17-5 and Hughes had a four-point burst to make the score 22-6 and ice the match.
Siefring and Ashley Aselage led a balanced offensive attack with six kills apiece, while Alaina Titley, Rachel Wildermuth and Olivia Newbourn each had five. Wildermuth added four blocks and 12 assists, Siefring had 12 digs and five aces, Hughes had eight digs and four aces, Titley had nine digs, Emily Graham had 14 assists and Molly Achterberg had three blocks.
Tippecanoe advances to Saturday’s district championship round, where it will face 17-7 Hamilton Badin at 3 p.m. at Fairfield High School with a chance to qualify for the regional tournament for the second straight season.
“We have a big challenge coming up against Hamilton Badin,” Garcia said. “They are more refined, have more skill, they play a challenging schedule in their conference, and they’ve got some hitters that can swing from the pins. I think we still have a little more size and quickness than they do, but we still have to control the ball on our side to be able to break them down.
“Our third straight trip to the district championship, and we tied the amount of wins obtained last year. I’m very proud of the team and who they have become.”
Contact Troy Daily News Sports Editor Josh Brown at email@example.com, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.
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