By KEVIN HARRIS
During the first half of the week, Providence volleyball coach Terri Purichia was concerned about her team’s mindset while preparing for Saturday’s Class 2A state championship match against Wapahani at 1 p.m. at Ball State University’s Worthen Arena in Muncie.
Purichia felt her players were tight and too quiet. So the veteran coach decided it was time to have a meeting on Wednesday with the Class 2A No. 2 Pioneers to find out what the problem was.
“They have been calm and they have been quiet, and that’s not how this team is,” Purichia said. “The first three days of this week, the pressure was insurmountable.”
On Thursday, the mood at Providence’s practice was a complete 180-degree turnaround after Wednesday’s pow-wow. The Pioneers were talking with each other and participating in cheers to get them pumped up for the biggest match in their high school careers.
“What we asked for [on Wednesday] was this team back — this team that had the smile on their face and that comes into practice singing and staying loose,” Purichia said. “I always feel like when there is a problem, you’ve got to talk about it and we did. We noticed the problem, we let them talk about it, we let it all come out and now everybody feels better. They’re ready to go.”
Providence’s loose demeanor has it acting like the underdog it is perceived to be entering Saturday’s Class 2A state-title match. Wapahani (32-4) is the defending Class 2A state champion with six seniors on its roster and ranked No. 1 in the final Indiana Coaches of Girls Sports Association Class 2A poll.
“I think in everybody’s opinion we are considered the underdog,” Purichia said. “You don’t go up against a team that has been No. 1 in the state all year and won the state championship last year with virtually the same team and not expect to be the underdog. But we are used to that role and we like it. There is less pressure and we don’t have anything to lose going into this match.”
Purichia, though, does not think her team is an overwhelming underdog to Wapahani, which is located in Delaware County near Muncie. In fact, she thinks her players match up well with the Raiders.
“We are not presenting it to them like a David versus Goliath competition,” Purichia said. “This is one versus two. These are the two best teams in the state, and they both earned their way to be here. We feel it’s as much our opportunity as theirs, and that’s just how we’re treating it.
“We are up against a team that is very evenly matched with us. If we go in and play the way we are capable of playing, we can pull off what everyone considers to be the upset.”
Providence setter Patricia Mattingly is not completely buying that the Pioneers are complete underdogs either. Providence (35-4) has cruised through the postseason, and its 35 wins are the most in program history for a single season.
“I don’t think there is an underdog at all,” Mattingly said. “We definitely don’t have the experience, but I think we have the talent. We’re neck-and-neck with Wapahani. The team that wants it more will be the winner.”
Junior middle hitter Lindi Thomas and senior outside hitter Aubreigh Applegate lead the Wapahani attack. Applegate ranks first for the Raiders in kills (433), second in digs (338) and fifth in blocks (41). Thomas ranks second in kills (432) and fourth in blocks.
“In my opinion, Lindi Thomas is their best player. Because you have to focus so much on Lindi as an opposing team, Lindi actually gives Applegate some opportunities because people key on [Thomas] so much,” said Purichia, who also mentioned that the Pioneers must also be aware of senior outside hitter Brittany Cline.
“But Applegate is a great player. Offensively, she has more shots and she does a lot more things. But their go-to player is definitely Thomas. They feel comfortable going to her and she gets the job done when they go to her.”
Purichia also said the player who makes the Raider offense run efficiently is sophomore setter Kiley Lingenfelter. The daughter of Wapahani coach Mike Lingenfelter has 1,089 assists this season.
“She is very talented as a setter. She is one of the best setters in the state,” Purichia said. “She is definitely her father’s daughter. She’s a student of the game. She’s been around volleyball since she was born. She plays with court awareness and court presence because she’s a really intelligent player. In my opinion, she’s one of their emotional leaders. She gets really, really energetic, but I’ve also seen that kind of work against them, too, where she gets flustered sometimes. I think she is someone we absolutely have to watch out for.”
Purichia says the Raiders have a quick-strike offense that wants to put constant pressure on the defense. The Providence coach says Wapahani has depth at each position and is very athletic.
“They have a really fast offense. Their passes are really low and straight to the setter. They have some good servers,” Providence senior libero Kylie Flanagan said. “We’ve just been trying to work on our transitions to make it quicker. We need to come out as intense as possible.”
Purichia thinks serving and serve-reception will determine which team walks away with the state championship trophy on Saturday afternoon.
“We have to serve as aggressively as we can to get them out of their system, and we have to serve-receive the ball well,” Purichia said. “Wapahani does those two things very well, and during this tournament run we have also. The team that can serve and pass the most effectively is going to be the winner.”
Even though the Pioneers are making their sixth appearance in the IHSAA State Finals, they will be playing in a state championship match for the first time. In its five previous trips to the state finals, which were all under a four-team format, Providence lost each time in the semifinals.
Purichia has guided the Pioneers to three state finals — all in Class 3A — in 1999, 2001 and 2002. She also was on the Providence roster when the Pioneers went to the old one-class state finals in 1986.
This week, Purichia has tried to describe what the state-finals appearance is like.
“She said that the crowd is going to be huge and the gym,” Flanagan said. “But we can’t focus on that stuff. We need to focus on how we’re playing and focus on their weak spots and on our strong spots. We can’t play with nerves because when we play with nerves, we don’t play to the best of our abilities. We’re just going to go in excited, intense, loose, relaxed and have confidence that we can win.”
Mattingly says the Pioneers will be focused on doing one thing on Saturday — taking home a state championship trophy.
“We’re definitely really happy with how far we’ve gotten, but we want more. We’re not satisfied just going to state,” Mattingly said. “We definitely want to win — that’s our focus.”
IHSAA STATE FINALS
At Worthen Arena, Ball State University, Muncie
11 a.m., Class A — Cowan (26-10) vs. Loogootee (34-4)
1 p.m., Class 2A — Providence (35-4) vs. Wapahani (32-4)
3 p.m., Class 3A — Yorktown (35-3) vs. Indianapolis Chatard (31-7)
5 p.m., Class 4A — Carmel (37-1) vs. Avon (34-5)
WAPAHANI STATISTICAL LEADERS
• KILLS: Aubreigh Applegate 433, Lindi Thomas 432, Brittany Cline 242, Courtney Mitchell 181.
• DIGS: Paige Williamson 442, Applegate 338, Thomas 190.
• BLOCKS: Mitchell 87, Courtney Masters 49, Thomas 43, Cline 42, Applegate 41.
• ASSISTS: Kiley Lingenfelter 1,089, Mackenzie Evans 212.