WARSAW— It was a smooth waltz to the finals for the Squaw volleyballers, but the action heated up instantly when Muncie Burris took the court and defeated Bellmont by the slimmest of margins in two games, 23-25, 23-25 to take the title at the annual Warsaw Invitational.
Ranked #1 in 2A, Muncie Burris came into the tourney, along with Bellmont, as one of the favorites and it came down to the two powerhouses in the final match.
"It felt like a championship should feel," Squaw coach Craig Krull commented after the tough loss. Neither team lead by more than two or three points in the first set. Bellmont was down, 24-21 and rallied, but a lift call ended the match at 25-23.
Not backing down, the Squaws came back to lead by as much as five points in the second set, but Burris came storming back to once again put Bellmont against the wall with a 24-21 lead. After the Squaws managed two more points, the game abruptly came to a tragic end thanks to an untimely service error.
"It was good to see that we could play with high intensity against the best in the state," coach Krull stated. "I have never seen such determination on our defensive side to not let anything hit the floor. Burris Will always keep coming at you from every angle, but we stood our ground and never backed away from the challenge."
Bellmont was led by senior Payton Schultz (who won tournament MVP unanimously), as she and fellow senior Holly Hankenson each had eight kills. Steph Shoup, the Squaws' set-up guru, had 25 assists in the game as well as a solo block and three assisting blocks.
Leading up to the final match-up with Burris, the Squaws faced Southwood, Lafayette Jeff, and eventually had a re-match against Bishop Luers.
Southwood felt like a tune-up game for Bellmont as they won in straight sets, 25-13, 25-18. Bellmont won the match thanks to consistent play and good ball control turning digs into points.
Against Southwood, the Squaws were led by Schultz who had 13 kills, four aces, and an assisted block. The other Hankenson twin, Bailee, produced seven kills, an ace, and eight digs.
In Bellmont's second match-up of the day, they took on Lafayette Jeff in a contest that proved to be just as easy as the first. The Squaws took the match, again in straight sets, 25-15, 25-5. Schultz came away with 10 kills, two aces, and a pair of digs. Holly Hankenson had six kills and two digs, while senior libero Allison Gutierrez had a kill and ten digs.
In the semi-final match-up against familiar foe Bishop Luers, the Squaws proved that it was no fluke that they put down the Lady Knights last week. They won the match in lopsided fashion with a 25-8 score in the first set (thanks to an 8-0 start), but a much more exciting 27-25 score to finish off Luers in the second.
The second set of this match saw the Squaws down set-point, 23-24, but after a serving error by Luers, two more unforced errors ended the match in favor of the Squaws.
Coach Krull responded post-game, "It seemed like there were one or two Bellmont players diving to the floor to extend each rally."
In this contest it was Bailee Hankenson who out-shined everyone on the court with 10 kills, 10 digs, and a block. Her twin put up five kills and three digs in the match, while Gutierrez and Shoup again helped in their role with 15 digs and 22 assists respectively.
The Squaws will see action again tonight at home against the Bluffton Lady Tigers. All three Bellmont teams will play on the main floor, including a 5 p.m. start for the Squaws' C-team.