La PORTE — It was kind of a tale of two different sentiments for New Prairie and Michigan City's volleyball teams after Saturday's Warsaw Tiger Invitational at the Dunes Events Center in La Porte.
While the Cougars captured their first three games to advance to the final, they fell in two straight sets to the host Tigers, who controlled most of the match. That sort of left a bitter taste for New Prairie coach Jordan Staus, even though she was pleased her team punched its ticket to the final.
In all, the Cougars finished with a 3-1 record, falling to Warsaw 25-19, 25-19 to end its day.
“We played well until the championship game, and then, obviously we lost,” Staus said. “To get to the final, we were kind of playing scrappy defense. And we talked a lot more. I don't know if the break kind of made that momentum go away.”
New Prairie (22-7) had roughly an hour break between its semifinal game and the final.
Michigan City (14-13), meanwhile, who had been scuffling earlier this week, had a productive day with a 3-1 mark, just losing to the Cougars in three games in its second contest.
“We played a lot better today,” Wolves coach Jim Kaufman said. “We had some discussions over the past few days, especially after the La Porte game. Got the girls fired up again. It definitely showed today in the way they played.”
In the title contest versus Warsaw, the Cougars trailed by five points early in the opening set. They were trying to claw back the rest of that game, never getting closer than five, before dropping it, 25-19. Set 2 was tighter and New Prairie led 8-6. It couldn't maintain that advantage, though, as the Tigers pulled away midway through. They also won that set 25-19 to end the Cougars' day with a straight-set defeat.
“As a team, we could have done a lot better,” New Prairie's Elise Swistek said. “We missed a lot of serves and our defense wasn't where it normally is.”
At the same time, Staus recognized Warsaw's effective serve-receive game, which gave her squad issues.
“They had really good serve-receive, so they were able to set up their offense a little bit better than we were,” she said. “We struggled with that a little bit during that game.”
The Cougars were only down 17-15 in Set 2 with a chance to force a decisive third set, so they were competitive in that contest.
“Elise (Swistek), and Katie (Hancock), and Ellie (Michiaels), and Josie (Troy) all did their jobs, but it can't be four kids,” Staus said. “It can't be four kids out of however many are playing on your roster. It has to be everybody.”
New Prairie wasn't able to overcome the stingy Tigers, however, as they closed that set on an 8-4 run.
Earlier this season, the Cougars defeated Warsaw in two games in an invitational.
To begin its day, New Prairie bested Wawasee 25-20, 25-6, then beat City in three games, 16-25, 25-17, 15-10. It downed Garrett in a semifinal, 25-21, 25-16, to advance to the final. The Wolves downed John Glenn in two games, before losing to the Cougars in three, then rebounded to top Reeth Puffer in two games, and edged Mishawaka Marian in three.
For the invite, Swistek paced New Prairie with 33 digs and 21 kills, followed by Haley Robinson with 20 kills and 13 digs. Hancock was dominant at the net with 16 blocks, and she added 16 digs, while Troy tallied 24 digs. Michiaels recorded 12 kills and six blocks, and Emma Fleck dished out 44 assists. Swistek, Hancock, Michiaels and Troy were selected to the All-Tournament Team.
Staus said she was particularly impressed with Swistek's aggressiveness.
"Elise (Swistek) just goes after every ball," Staus added. "But the other three kids I named did their jobs on the court and they were trying to get kids pumped up. But people can't be your cheerleader all the time. You've got to do it yourself."
In the championship match, Swistek tallied 10 digs, to go along with four kills, while Troy notched seven digs.
For City, it rebounded after dropping the opening set in heartbreaking fashion to outlast the Knights in three games, 23-25, 25-15, 15-7 to finish its day.
“It was heart, it was definitely heart in that game,” Kaufman said. “I told them, 'It's who wanted it more.' Everybody's tired. It's been a very long day.”
The Wolves were ahead 23-20 in the first set, but Marian reeled off a 5-0 spurt to claim that contest, 25-23. But City responded by taking command early in Sets 2 and 3 and never looked back, winning those sets comfortably. Micah Ruhe earned back-to-back aces to seal the victory.
“Today our libero, Micah, impressed me,” Kaufman said. “She's really come leaps and bounds from last year. She was just a DS (defensive specialist). This year as a libero, she's just doing so much better. She's reading the ball.”
Earlier in the day, the Wolves came out hungry versus county foe New Prairie and claimed the opening set, 25-16. But they couldn't quite close it out, despite being competitive against a fairly elite area team.
Swistek believes the Cougars will be a different squad when the postseason rolls around the week of October 14.
"We'll still do pretty good in the sectional," Swistek said. "Because they knew if we don't win, then it's over. They knew it wasn't over today, so I don't really know if we tried that hard because of that. Usually we can get into gear when that comes."
Warsaw Tiger Invitational
(at the Dunes Events Center- La Porte)
New Prairie: 3-1 record (runner-up)
Michigan City: 3-1 record