By Terry Schwinghammer
The Linton-Stockton Lady Miners celebrate after beating Barr-Reeve to win the sectional championship Saturday at North Knox.
This was not supposed to happen.
Nobody expected the Linton-Stockton Lady Miners to beat the Barr-Reeve Lady Vikings and win Class 2A Volleyball Sectional 47 at North Knox.
But they did.
In their best collective effort of the season the Lady Miners shocked Barr-Reeve - and the world - knocking off the state’s third-ranked team in Class 2A.
And as the old cliche goes, “That’s why they play the games.”
One who did believe was Lady Miners volleyball coach Scott Vanderkolk.
The coach had a target circled on Barr-Reeve’s back before the season started.
In an interview for the season preview, Vanderkolk said, “I’m sure the girls are tired of me talking about Barr-Reeve. “But when you go out and lose three in a row to a sectional championship team you’ve got to address that. They’re the ones we’re going after.”
And Vanderkolk had reason to believe.
Linton has looked capable of beating anyone on their schedule at times. But they’ve struggled with maintaining consistency and intensity - especially once they got the upper hand.
The Sullivan match a month ago is probably the most glaring example.
The Lady Miners came out on fire and hustling, running away with the first set 25-13.
The fired-up hosts hustled and scrapped in the opening set, tracking down balls seemingly out of reach and making plays.
Then they fell flat, managing just 12, 13 and 10 points the remaining three sets.
The Lady Miners coach said before sectional play began, “I think our girls are ready to show our record’s not indicative of what we are capable of. “We’ve taken sets from teams we’ve historically never taken sets from.”
Among those were Terre Haute South, Northview and Tates Creek.
“We’ve beat some really good teams. We’ve worked through some of our issues that have kind of lingered through the year and I think we’re over those things now.”
They weren’t completely over it in Saturday’s sectional final against South Knox.
Linton breezed through the first two sets, winning 25-15 and 25-8.
Then the all-too-familiar scenario resurfaced.
The Lady Miners suffered a letdown, dropping the third set 25-22 and scraping out a 25-23 win in the final set.
“The first and second sets were awesome,” Vanderkolk said. “We played the way we expected we should. And then three and four it was that same old broken record again.
“We addressed it. I think the girls realize now we can’t do that.”
Whatever he said must have worked.
When Linton-Stockton and Barr-Reeve played in late August, the Lady Miners were swept 25-18, 25-22 and 25-22.
The match was far more competitive than the three-set sweep might indicate.
Trey Miller - golf professional at Country Oaks Golf Club - was one of the officials that night. He said, “If you like volleyball you’ve got to love this match. Two good teams going at it."
Vanderkolk saw enough to believe.
It was a battle all the way through,” he said. “I can’t argue a whole lot. We just had some breakdowns a few times. If a few balls fall a little different and we take a set or two who knows?”
“As a coaching staff we were extremely pleased with everything for the most part.” Vanderkolk said.
“We’re only going to get better.”
“It was far from easy,” Barr-Reeve coach Amber DeCoursey said. “They have a very nice squad. I was very impressed by their play.”
“They (Linton) were digging the ball, they were passing well,” DeCoursey said. “They were coming at us and they got their hands on quite a few balls on the blocks.
“We were exposed in areas but I thought we did some things well too.”
The first set Saturday night looked like more of the same as the Lady Miners lost 25-17.
And they appeared doomed to an early exit, falling behind 10-2 in set two.
But something clicked.
An 8-0 run evened the score and ignited the Lady Miners. Soon after they led by four and wound up scoring five of the last six.
“When we got that first set from Barr-Reeve you could see it in the girls’ eyes,” Vanderkolk said. “They weren’t going to let up. They were determined. They knew at that point it was possible.”
They won a hard-fought third set 25-23. In set four, they trailed 13-7, stormed back to take a 19-18 lead and finished off the Lady Vikings.
“Bottom line is they wanted it more than we did,” DeCoursey said. “They made big plays when it mattered. We were back on our heels and were afraid to make mistakes instead of attacking. And when you do that in the sectional and you’re playing a very good team anything can happen.”
When Al McGuire was broadcasting college basketball a generation ago, he was noted for saying, “The best thing about freshmen is they become sophomores.”
And a couple of sophomores became juniors Saturday night.
Middle blocker Reghan Moody came up with a huge block and a kill in set three and did the same at a key juncture in the fourth set.
She admitted being nervous because “Barr-Reeve, they’re a great ball club. I think we surprised even ourselves.”
Sophomore setter Mallorey Frye kept the Miners’ hitters in business, handing out 43 assists against South Knox and 42 in the Barr-Reeve match.
“It’s pretty crazy,” she said. “They were 31-2 or whatever their record was coming in here. We knew it was going to be a hard game but we’ve played for it all year long.”
Moody and Frye didn’t get a lot of varsity experience last year.
“Our youth showed at times but also our experience showed,” Vanderkolk said. “Our juniors and seniors, they’re all seasoned crafty veterans. That combination of those six and the two sophomores can be dangerous. They responded well to the pressure.”
And the upperclassmen have been here before. All were part of Linton-Stockton’s 2014 sectional championship.
But they all agree the second one is much sweeter.
“Oh my goodness I’ve never been more excited in all my life,” Jaelyn Walker said. “This is the best feeling I’ve had in forever. It’s so much better Senior year. This just tops it all off.”
Kaitlyn Clothier added, “This is just the best feeling we’ve ever had.”
Brantli Lannan, who made the key hustle play to cap off the 8-0 run in the second set, compared the thrill of winning this one to the first.
“It’s so amazing,” she said. “And it’s nice to know I have one more sectional title while I’m still in high school.
“We knew we could do it. But just coming out here and proving we could do it just means a lot.
And I think people will realize Miner volleyball is coming and showing what we can do now.”
Tayler Moore, perhaps the craftiest of the crafty veterans, said it was a total team effort.
“We all played as a team for the first time honestly we have all year. We played better together as a team than ever.”
And now the Lady Miners have a regional date at Evansville Mater Dei ahead of them. And if they play like they did Saturday night, a semistate berth may be in their future.
Terry Schwinghammer is a sports writer for the Greene County Daily World. He can be reached by telephone at (812) 847-4487, ext. 27. He can also be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.