NEW CARLISLE — "We just want to keep playing with each other."
When any New Prairie volleyball player is asked about what drives them to come back from deficits, overcome adversity or continue to win, that's their response. Every time.
It's basic and even a little bit corny, but the sentiment rings especially true for the Cougars. There's a culture surrounding the team that exudes what high school sports are all about: Creating memories and friendships that will last far past the girls' time on the court.
Whether it be on team sleepovers or bus rides singing, it's unsure exactly where this bonding began. Those two occurrences are frequently mentioned when asked about the memories they'll take away from this year, but aren't mentioned every time. What does come up with every player, though, is Chipotle.
"They've always known I've loved Chipotle," said head coach Jordan Staus. "But I didn't really get any of them into it themselves until this year."
The American-Mexican food chain is one of the most popular restaurants in the country, amassing an average of about $2 million in profit per store in 2018 alone. Contributing their fair share to the Northern Indiana stores is this year's New Prairie volleyball team.
When the season started, however, Chipotle meant no more to them than Qdoba, Pancheros or even Taco Bell. It was just some Mexican restaurant; nothing special there. Except to Staus, th3 self-proclaimed Chipotle addict. She has it at least two or three times per week and got her team hooked on it after a road game in early September at Mishawaka.
They piled onto the bus after a long match and needed some food to refuel. With a Chipotle nearby, Staus figured she might as well instruct the bus driver to head over to it for a pit stop on the way home. The girls ordered a plethora of burrito bowls and the team-wide obsession began.
"I love when we get food because we just have so much fun and chat so much," said sophomore libero Josie Troy. "Chipotle especially. Our team loves Chipotle. I literally text Coach (Staus) all the time and we'll talk about Chipotle. We'll just send each other our meals whenever we go there. I used to not even like Chipotle that much. Then this season hit, and I'll literally get it like three times a week. It's funny — Chipotle just kind of brings us all together."
Chipotle trips are just some of the many different ways the Cougars have created much more than a bond as teammates. They love making fools of themselves together, whether singing along to some Backstreet Boys before the sectional finals or giving each other playful grief.
Even though it has junior Valparaiso commit Elise Swistek and senior middle Katie Hancock anchoring the team — both Northern Indiana Conference first team selections — talent alone isn't what makes this team so special. Its will to continue playing together makes Staus' bunch as special as it is, and it all starts with a Chipotle employee dressed in all black asking, "White or brown rice?"
The New Prairie Chipotle Addicts (the unofficial volleyball team mascot now) travel to Plymouth High School — 29 minutes from the nearest Chipotle in South Bend — Saturday afternoon. They will take on a 24-10 Bellmont team at 2 p.m. in the semistate, looking for a chance to travel to Ball State the following weekend for the 3A state championship.
The Braves have shown plenty of resilience in their past three postseason matches, taking them all in the fifth game, winning 3-2 against NorthWood, Angola and Muncie Burris. New Prairie has had a much less stressful time in the regional and sectional finals, winning in three and four sets, respectively.
Class 3A Semistate
New Prairie (29-7) vs. Bellmont (24-10), 2 p.m.