MISHAWAKA — Annalise Warnock and Reece Shirley are best friends.
Unfortunately for them, they were adversaries on Saturday night. That's because Warnock's La Porte volleyball team was playing Shirley's Michigan City squad for the sectional title.
In the end, Warnock and the Slicers bested Shirley and rival City, racing out to early leads in all three sets en route to a 25-13, 25-9, 25-22 win to capture the Class 4A Mishawaka Sectional crown.
“It was super fun to play against her,” Warnock said. “We're very competitive with each other, so it just made it that much more fun. It's my first sectional championship as a Slicer on varsity. It's a crazy feeling. I'm so happy.”
Warnock and Shirley have played club volleyball together every season for Dunes since they were 12 years old. And they're also typically beach volleyball partners.
"It's a very close relationship," said Warnock, who added it was bittersweet to beat Shirley in the sectional final.
It was La Porte volleyball's first sectional title in three years.
The Slicers (27-5) entirely controlled the first two sets, claiming each by double digits, before City (16-16) mounted a spirited rally in Set 3. That allowed it to erase a 14-9 deficit to tie it, 14-14. The Wolves then built a lead as big as five, 20-15, with a chance to win a set against heavily-favored La Porte. It didn't cooperate, though, as Aniya Kennedy delivered huge down the stretch offensively, propelling the Slicers to the sweep with a 25-22 win, including her kill to end it.
“In true Aniya fashion she stepped up and helped us get out of it,” said La Porte coach Cassie Holmquest of the sophomore middle blocker. “She was executing well.”
La Porte jumped out to a 7-0 lead at the outset of the opening set. That enabled it to set the tone for the match.
Kennedy's hitting and Paige Conklin's serving and hitting were pivotal early, aiding their team's 19-9 advantage. The Slicers won the first set 25-13.
In Set 2, it was more of the same. La Porte hit the ground running and breezed to the 16-point victory. Warnock and Cheyanne Seymour were the impact offensive players.
“In the second set, we didn't do anything glaringly wrong, but we just didn't do things right,” said City coach Jim Kaufman, who's the former Slicers' freshman coach. “Hitting right into the block. Some of our passes weren't the greatest."
The third set appeared to be heading a similar direction until City stormed back. It reeled off an 11-1 run to build a late five-point cushion, 20-15. Reece Shirley and Ellery Dolezal led the charge and the team pounced on Slicers' miscues. La Porte came back to tie it, 22-22, and ultimately prevailed by three points.
“I told them that third set, 'I know you don't want to go out like that,'” Kaufman said. “'We don't want to score nine or 10 points. We want to score. And we can play with them.' And we did very well that set."
The Slicers staved off their rivals, however, and punched their ticket to the regional.
“We're really excited,” Holmquest said. “Everybody's really happy. Everybody executed the way they needed to. It's good momentum for the regional.”
Kennedy paced a balanced La Porte attack with 10 kills and six blocks, including five solo, and Warnock was right behind with nine kills, in addition to seven digs. Seymour posted eight kills, while Olivia Voelker led with 10 digs. Conklin had seven digs, four kills, 21 assists and four aces, and Lexi Joyner added five kills.
"Annalise played well," Holmquest added. "Cheyanne (Seymour) played really, really good. She had a very good warm-up, too. Olivia (Voelker) held us pretty strong defensively."
Kennedy, especially, was dynamic all night, particularly at the end of the last set when she earned kill after kill.
“In Set 3 we were kind of frantic, so I was just trying to bring the calmness back so we could finish the game,” she said. “It's really important to be calm. It feels great when you get in the zone because when you score a point, you know you got that kill or that tip. I'm just happy to help the team.”
Shirley guided the Wolves with six kills and nine assists, while Micah Ruhe notched a team-best 13 digs. Dolezal had seven digs and five kills, and Alexa Sparks tallied nine digs and 11 assists. Aaliyah Jones chipped in four kills.
City loses three seniors to graduation, Shirley, Jones and Armani Torrance-Worlds.
“A lot of heart,” Kaufman said of his seniors. “A lot of hard work. A great group of kids.”
La Porte, meanwhile, next meets Penn in the four-team La Porte Regional at 10 a.m. on Saturday. The Kingsmen eliminated the Slicers from the sectional the last two years, including a grueling, five-game marathon in a semifinal on La Porte's home court last season.
“We just want to go as far as we can this year,” Kennedy said. “Because last year our Penn loss really disappointed us. But our team now is lifted up and our spirits are high.”
Class 4A Mishawaka Sectional
La Porte 25-25-25, Michigan City 13-9-22
The Slicers’ Aniya Kennedy tallied 10 kills and six blocks.