GREENWOOD – Center Grove coach Dana Matis’ message to her team during a first-set timeout was to take a few breaths, calm down and focus on controlling what they could control.
The No. 4 Trojans trailed 12th-ranked Franklin Community, 21-20, in the opening set when Matis decided she needed to talk to her team. Center Grove hadn’t lost a set since Sept. 26 and entered Saturday’s sectional 13 final on nine-game and 27-set win streaks.
“We have enough confidence in those guys to not have to call a timeout usually that early,” Matis said of the lone timeout she called Saturday. “I just felt like we needed to take a deep breath and settle in a little bit. Just kind of give them a minute to re-focus. We knew that we’d come out strong right after.”
The Trojans (30-5) responded after Matis’ timeout and won the opening set, 26-24. They took the second and third sets to win the match, 3-0, and advance to the regional championship.
Neither Matis nor Franklin Community coach Travis Gabehart thought the 10 a.m. start negatively affected either team. Gabehart, though, said dropping the first set hurt the Grizzly Cubs (30-6) mentally.
“We expended so much energy into that first set, and then to drop it, it was tough for us to overcome that,” Gabehart said. “Center Grove just kept the gas on us and didn’t stop. They’re relentless. We were unable to slow down their offense. They pretty much had their way with us offensively.”
The Trojans won the second set, 25-20, as they fed off the energy of their opening-set win and jumped out to a 10-5 lead. They used a 9-1 run to close out the final set, 25-13, winning on senior Madison Smeathers’ 18th kill. Senior Taylor Hammill totaled 32 assists, and senior Malea Howie struck three aces to aid Center Grove’s attack.
“It was a team effort,” Smeathers said. “Our defense did really well. We picked our blocking up in the second and third set. Our energy overall was just really well.”
Franklin Community entered the match on a four-game winning streak and had outscored its opponents 12 sets to 1. The Grizzly Cubs failed to win one set, and Gabehart said they weren’t firing on all cylinders due to wandering minds after dropping the first set.
The Trojans had beat the Grizzly Cubs 3-1 on Sept. 3 at Center Grove and 3-0 on Oct. 1 in the Johnson County Tourney. Matis and Smeathers said it’s hard to beat the same team three times, and Matis added she didn’t want the team to feel complacent with their two regular season wins and overlook Franklin Community since every team is playing its best volleyball during the postseason.
Smeathers said the team was determined to get a win not only for themselves but for the coaches after last season’s disappointing loss in the sectionals. They’ll have a chance to continue their run when they host the winner of sectional 14 in the regional championship, slated for 7 p.m. Tuesday at Center Grove High School. The sectional 14 championship, hosted by Shelbyville, is 7 p.m. today.
“We have the capability of a state run,” Smeathers said. “We’re not done yet.”