By Josh Brown
TIPP CITY — After Brooke Aselage’s final kill put away a four-set victory over six-time defending division champion Troy, an elated Tippecanoe volleyball team leapt off its bench and charged the court, kicking off a raucous celebration.
It’s a feeling that, 10 years later, the Trojans still remember well.
The Red Devils ended Troy’s winning streak in division play — a streak that had reached 63 straight games — keeping its composure in tough situations, claiming momentum and putting away a 25-18, 21-25, 25-23, 25-21 victory over the Trojans Tuesday at Tippecanoe High School, putting both teams in position to share this year’s Greater Western Ohio Conference American North championship with one match remaining in the season.
Tippecanoe — which has lost to Troy in five sets in the second meeting both seasons since entering the GWOC — improved to 19-2 with the win and 13-1 in the American North, and the Devils now need only a win in home match against Butler Thursday to clinch a share of the division title.
“It feels good. The fact of the matter is the past two or three years we’ve been knocking on the door playing against this excellent program (Troy),” Tippecanoe coach Howard Garcia said. “We break their streak, but that doesn’t mean they’re not still the team to beat. They are. That’s a fact. But now that we’ve brought ourselves to that level, it means we can see eye to eye with that level of competition.”
Troy coach Michelle Owen knows all too well just how good a feeling it is.
“We remember being in that same boat 11 years ago when we beat Butler for the first time,” she said. “Back then, it was only a single time through the league and you only got one shot at the team, and that was all you had. We remember that first feeling when you’re going after someone and you get that first real shot to take it away. Give credit to them — they played their hearts out and did a nice job.”
The Trojans, which fell to 16-5 and 13-1 in the GWOC American North, lost a regular season division match for the first time since Oct. 11, 2011 when they lost to Butler, and they followed that with a loss in the sectional tournament to that year’s division champion, Piqua — who Troy now needs to defeat on Saturday to clinch a share of its seventh straight North title. Since defeating Butler for that first time to win the division title in 2008, the Trojans have won it seven more times total.
Tuesday night, no single point proved to be more important than with the match tied 1-1 and the score tied 23-23 in the third set.
Troy had just ran off three straight points to tie the score despite Tippecanoe burning both its timeouts on back-to-back points. But with a loose ball hanging over the middle of the net, both side went after it in a flurry, with the ball landing on the Devils’ side. However, the officials called a Troy player in the net to give Tippecanoe a set point, and a hitting error on the next point gave the Devils a 2-1 lead.
“It was a tight set for our right side, Emily Graham, and she stayed committed to the set even though the ball was on their side,” Garcia said. “Staying committed to it forced their attacker to go after it, so they had the net violation. If you do not quit on the plays, those are the possibilities that can occur — she could have backed off, let it go and that play’s over. But she did not.”
The Trojans saw it a bit differently, though.
“I saw a ball go down on their side, and it looked to us like their player was in the net,” Owen said. “They called us in the net, and I don’t know how that happens. You either have a no call or a replay. But we tell our girls that we’ve got to be in a situation where that doesn’t happen, where it doesn’t affect the outcome. You can’t let calls define you. You’ve got to play better, play through it and put yourself in a situation where that doesn’t matter. If we come out a little better in Set 1, not so flat, a little more aggressive and take Set 1, that play isn’t so big of an issue. If you put yourself in a situation to win, it doesn’t sting quite as bad.”
And even though sophomore middle hitter Rachel Wildermuth led the Devils with 16 kills and five blocks and her backup, Morgan Cundiff, only played in one game and had one block, Garcia credited the veteran’s calming influence in that one game as helping Tippecanoe maintain its composure.
“Troy is a a very good serving team. They serve aggressive,” he said. “However, when we’re able to serve receive, we have the best middle in the area in Rachel Wildermuth. If we can feed Rachel and get our offense going, that frees the corners for them to be effective. But our middle was struggling a little on the reads blocking-wise, so we put in our senior, Morgan Cundiff, and she stabilized the team blocking-wise in the third set. I think her senior experience and demeanor also helped us.”
Troy, meanwhile, was up and down all night. The Trojans fell behind 14-8 in the first and fought all the way back to down two at 20-18, only to drop the next five straight points. They then jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the second and never looked back to even up the match, and they jumped out to a 4-1 lead in the third and still held a 14-13 lead before a five-point run gave the Devils the edge. Troy tied the score at 23-23 before the fateful battle at the net.
And in the fourth, the Trojans led 9-5 before Tippecanoe went on a 6-0 run to claim the advantage, and the closest Troy got after that was tying the score at 14-14.
“We did some good things, but we’re just inconsistent right now,” Owen said. “Alexa (Holland) was sick as a dog tonight, and I thought she played really well, all things considered. Lauren (Schmitz) is kind of going through a rut right now in her backcourt play, so we’re trying to get her out of that funk and get her to be a little more consistent in the backcourt. She settled in after Set 1 and played more solid, which was good. And we set our middles and were really successful in the second set and even in Set 3, and we were still setting them in Set 4 but had a lot of hitting errors off of it.
“Give credit to them — they did some nice things on their side of the net. We had prepped for a lot of them, but they still found ways to kind of get through our block. We knew they would be incredibly motivated for this match.”
Schmitz and Payton Riley each had 16 kills to lead the Trojans, with Schmitz adding three aces and Riley three blocks. Brianna Slusher had 10 kills, Carly Pfeiffer and Kate Orban each had five kills, Morgan Baber had 49 assists, Holland had 33 digs and Ella Furlong had 11 digs.
After Wildermuth’s totals, Aselage had 14 kills and 10 digs for the Devils, Corinn Siefring had eight kills and four blocks, Graham had seven kills, Isabelle Crow had 40 assists and 10 digs and Abby Hughes had 21 digs and added five assists.
And as good as the Devils felt immediately following Tuesday’s win, they still aren’t at the finish line quite yet.
“One more match against Butler Thursday, and they’re going to come in fired up,” Garcia said. “It’s our Senior Night, and we still need to win that match to share the bounty. Now that this match is over, we move on.”
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.