By Robb Hemmelgarn
ST. HENRY -- Before a sea of spectators dominated by red and white clad fans, the St. Henry Redskins had all they could handle and more last evening as it took them five games to finally down the Wildcats of Minster, 25-19, 25-20, 23-25, 24-26, 15-13.
The win gave the Redskins their 12th consecutive Midwest Athletic Conference title dating back to the 1993-1994 season, when the current group of St. Henry seniors were in the first grade. Eleven of the championships belong solely to the Redskins, while in 2001 they shared the honors with the New Bremen Cardinals.
"We knew coming into tonight's game that Minster wasn't going to let many balls hit the floor and in those last three games, I think only one may have dropped," said Redskin coach Lori Schwieterman. "Minster did a fantastic job of staying patient and waiting for us to make mistakes and they took great advantage of that tonight."
If Minster head coach Rick Carter had any concerns going into the game, it was the fact he didn't want his girls to be mentally overwhelmed in the early going. After all, on the other side of the net was the state's top-ranked team in Division IV, whose only three losses came at the hands of Division I's first and fourth-ranked teams, and Sidney Lehman, who is number five in Division IV.
It was also senior night and, as if there wasn't enough going in the Redskins' favor, the last time Minster defeated the Redskins was during St. Henry head coach Lori Schwieterman's senior year in 1978. "St. Henry has a great program and a great lineup of players," complimented Carter. "We came in here tonight and were down a little in the first two games, but the girls fought hard and didn't give up. We stuck together and got the momentum to go our way all the way into game five. We got down early in that final game and it came back to haunt us, but I give the girls a lot of credit tonight."
With a conglomerate of underclassmen and first-year varsity starters dotting his roster, Carter watched his girls face an all-senior starting lineup for St. Henry in the first two games. The Wildcats held brief, one-point leads in each game, but in the end of both fell to St. Henry by six and five points respectively.
The home team jumped ahead by six points in game three, as those in attendance figured it was a matter of going through the formalities before Minster was sent home with the loss. That is where things got interesting. The Orange and Black rallied and took a 17-16 lead a few minutes later and eventually battled to the 25-23 win.
"In the first two games, we went with a lineup that we only practiced two nights with, but I felt we did a good job and we were able to walk off with a pair of wins," remarked Schwieterman. "We continually made adjustments and the girls responded well, but I give Minster a lot of credit for hanging in there and making it a very exciting game all around."
Both teams exhibited true grit in game four, as the contest was tied on 10 different occasions before the Wildcats finally pulled out the nail-biting, 26-24 win. With her regular starting lineup fully intact, Schwieterman's girls trailed just once in the deciding match, despite ties on seven different instances.
Senior Lanee Mikesell gave her team a 14-12 lead, before a big block by Minster's Laura Morsey and Samantha Schumann, brought the Wildcats to within a point. As Laura Morsey dropped back to serve, fans clung nervously to the edge of their seat.
The tilt ended a few seconds later on a defensive lapse by Minster and the Redskins secured their 24th league volleyball trophy since 1977.
"St. Henry has got some great hitters and they were really cranking them tonight," remarked Carter. "I am happy with the way our defense responded, and I feel we did a good job at handling them most of the night. We were able to win games three and four against what was pretty much their regular starters and game five could have gone either way. I told the girls in the locker room that they hung with the number one team in the state and they have nothing to be ashamed of."
The Wildcats are back in action on Monday when they host Spencerville and St. Henry is idle until next week on Saturday when the sectional tournament opens in New Bremen. The JV contest was won in two games by St. Henry.