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Peru and Maconaquah to open Western volleyball sectional play

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YOUTH MOVEMENT: Both Peru and Maconaquah have been using a younger set of players than in recent seasons, relying on more freshmen like Cate Wolfe (pictured) and Averie Miller to fill in key roles in the starting lineup in 2018.
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SHOWDOWN: Peru and Maconaquah will meet in the opening round of IHSAA Volleyball Class 3A Sectional No. 20 play at 6 p.m. Thursday. The two schools met in the first week of the season, a five-set match the Braves were able to take over the Tigers.

BY TRENT SCOTT - tscott@perutribune.com

An all-Miami County battle is on tap for IHSAA Volleyball Class 3A Sectional No. 20 Thursday at 6 p.m.

The opening match of the Western sectional will pit Peru against Maconaquah in a rematch of a contest that took place almost two months ago.

The winner will advance to face West Lafayette in the sectional semifinal Saturday and, for all three teams on that side of the bracket, there was likely not a more ideal draw.

Braves head coach Jessica Metcalf said since the first meeting, the team had improved but added their opponents had done likewise.

“We’ve felt like, as the season has progressed, we’ve gotten better as a ball team,” Metcalf said. “We’re excited to play Peru again and we want to come out on top, though we’d rather not go five sets to do it.

“We’ve played everyone in the sectional except West Lafayette and Peru is the one game we have won. At the same time, Peru has also played and gotten better as the year has gone on and it’s still a rivalry game.”

Tiger head coach Dennett Roettger said the girls looked at the game as a second chance to get the right result.

“Getting Maconaquah first, we’ve faced them before and have a good chance of redeeming ourselves,” Roettger said. “We’re trying to be positive and optimistic.

“We’ve made great gains and have overcome obstacles this year, so why stop now? We’re going to keep dreaming big and working hard.”

Back on August 16, Peru dragged Maconaquah into a five-set thriller as the teams alternated sets throughout.

That would suit the Braves fine as the visitors took the first, third and fifth sets in a 25-20, 14-25, 25-20, 20-25, 15-12 win but the Tigers showed off a resiliency that had been missing in a lopsided series.

It was a bit of a surprise for the hosts, having only played four five-set matches in the prior three seasons, as well as Roettger.

“Being new to the team, I didn’t know they hadn’t gone five games before with Maconaquah,” Roettger said. “It was always three-and-done.

“I didn’t celebrate that until after the fact as, it didn’t matter whether we had won or lost, we played a really good game and were proud of the girls at that game. They know if they go out there and give it their best, everyone is going to be proud of them no matter what.”

Metcalf’s young squad also learned a lot from the experience.

“For us, going five sets in the first conference game was huge and there was both good and bad things from that,” Metcalf said. “The good was realized we had to play much better as a team and execute repeatedly on points.

“The negative was that we thought it could be a really long season if we have to keep going five sets in matches. The freshmen hadn’t been in a five-set match before and while we’ve been in more since then, it’s not our preference.”

Since then, the two teams have gone on different paths as Maconaquah went on to challenge for the TRC title while Peru continued its incremental improvement, matching the win total from 2017 with a week still to play and surpassing the total over the weekend at the North Montgomery Invitational.

“It was incredibly important,” Roettger said about picking up the wins over North Montgomery and Lawrence Central Saturday. “We came off of those last two games at home where we didn’t have any kind of wins and we were looking at going into the tournament kind of down.

“We went in to the invite knowing we had to come out of there with wins to even think about being ready for sectionals.”

Maconaquah closed the season with a 3-1 mark at the Maconaquah Invitational and Metcalf said the squad was geared up for sectional play.

“We have an idea of how well the team is gelling now,” Metcalf noted. “How we did against Peru in August 2018 will be different that how we do against Peru in October 2018.

“We’ve seen growth, we’ve had some lineup changes and we expect a different lineup from Peru. We need to go out, take what we’ve been practicing the whole season and put the whole plan together in one night, not be hit-or-miss with it.”

Both squads will be counting on younger players more so than in seasons past.

Maconaquah has featured three freshmen in Averie Miller, Lilly Maple and Taylor Roesler in a majority of sets this season with Metcalf pleased with their progress.

“Our freshmen have grown tremendously,” Metcalf said. “Averie has improved leaps and bounds in her confidence and our passing to her has been good the last few days.

“We’re a much better team as a whole right now and if you were to put us against some of those teams we’ve lost to before, we would play with more effort, which might change the outcome. Our team, for its age, is playing well right now and we’re not allowing anyone to use their age as an excuse.”

Peru has relied heavily on Cate Wolfe and later Casidy Bartel as the season has moved along while Roettger hinted that the team might work more into the rotation Thursday.

“There’s been a few changes to the lineup as we’ve added some younger girls who really contributed,” Roettger pointed out. “They showed what they had at the tournament.

“They tried to earn their spot and did so, so we’ve revamped the team and what we’re taking to sectionals seems to work. I don’t see us getting into the rut of winning a game then losing one but staying positive and doing great things this week.”

With both teams looking at Thursday as a chance to kick-start a run towards Saturday night’s final, both coaches said the chance to make that run would depend on how well they used the lessons from the 2018 season at their disposal.

“We talked about, at the end of a practice, how the team now realizes you have to be able to play as a team from start to finish,” Metcalf said. “We’ve used an analogy that this team plays like they’re at Cedar Rapids: they have the biggest highs and drops but they creep back in.

“We don’t want to play from behind; we want to play from in front and let the other teams chase us.”

“We could go down a long list of improvements these girls have made,” Roettger said. “Our starting six have continued to be my leaders, our top juniors and seniors have done nothing but improve, our team has learned how to communicate and how to read each other.

“Our setters and hitters have formed the kind of relationships that are needed on a volleyball court. We’re much better as a team than the first time we played Maconaquah and they know that.

“The girls have learned how to win and coming in, they didn’t always know what to do or how to win,” Roettger added. “The experiences they’ve had struggling and conquering those problems have made them ready for this.”