Girls Varsity Volleyball · Pioneer Lady Panthers Claim the 2020 IHSAA Volleyball Class 1A Semi-State Championship

STATE BOUND! Pioneer sweeps Cowan to win 2020 IHSAA Class A Volleyball Semi-State

LAFAYETTE — Pioneer squared off against a powerhouse Cowan squad that hails from Munciana — the top volleyball hotbed in the state of Indiana.

The Panthers showed they can play some volleyball in Cass County as well.

The No. 3 Panthers recorded a sweep of the No. 4 Blackhawks, 25-16, 25-17, 26-24, in the Class A northern semistate match on Saturday afternoon at Crawley Athletic Center.

The Panthers (29-3) won their second-ever semistate title, joining the 2018 team.

They will seek their first state championship in volleyball next week against No. 2 Loogootee (31-5) at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at Worthen Arena on the campus of Ball State University in Muncie.

“I cannot believe we just did that in three,” senior outside hitter Madison Blickenstaff said. “We were all prepared for a five-set game. Going into the third set, our coach was like, you have to be ready to play for the next hour. We were like, we’re not going to give up, we’re not going to go down easy, and we didn’t and we took it. I’m really proud. We played amazing.”

The win was especially sweet coming against Cowan (25-5), the defending state champion.

“We came here and we told ourselves we have something to prove,” Blickenstaff said. “They’re obviously from a volleyball area, we just wanted to prove to ourselves that we can play too.”

Pioneer coach Rod Nies also did not see a three-set win coming.

“I never would have dreamed that in a million years,” he said. “First of all, that’s a heck of a good team. The way we took care of those first two sets, it was methodical. We were just right on T. That’s probably the best two sets that we’ve played. We started off a little rough in the third. They finally regained their composure and I couldn’t be happier for the girls.”

Outside of a little bit of shaky play early in the third set, the Panthers played clean, high level volleyball.

Blickenstaff was in the zone with 14 kills in the first two sets as the Pioneer offense was humming.

“We were focused,” she said. “Olivia [Brooke] did amazing today. Her sets were perfect to everybody.”

Cowan jumped out to a 12-5 lead in set three. But the Panthers battled back behind six combined aces, including two apiece by Mackenzie Robinson, Blickenstaff and Mackenzie Walker. A kill by Hailey Cripe gave the Panthers a 14-13 lead.

Cowan surged ahead 20-16 before a block by Brooke stopped the run. An ace by Cripe pulled Pioneer to within 20-19.

The match continued to be back-and-forth before a kill by Walker tied it at 23-all.

A kill by Gracelynn Conway gave Cowan a 24-23 lead and a serve for set point. But Blickenstaff came up with a kill to tie it at 24-all.

Cripe was money with back-to-back kills to give the Panthers the semistate win.

The Panthers showed the strength of their program as they had a player who hadn’t seen much playing time of late, Carlie Morris, step up and make plays.

“Carlie Morris came in and gave us a huge boost in the arm,” Nies said. “She came in and played some great defense, had some big-time digs. Served. We were looking for someone to come in and be a solid server and just come in and play defense. She stepped right up. All three of those girls that rotate in to that back row, they’re all three really good players [Morris, Kaitlin Weldy and Emma Novaski].”

Blickenstaff finished with 18 kills, six digs, three aces and a block in the win. Brooke had 28 assists, nine digs and a block. Walker collected 17 digs, four kills and four aces. Cripe had 12 kills, nine digs and an ace. Morris collected six digs and an ace. Robinson had four digs, three assists and three aces. Kennedy Corn added a block.

As a program, the Panthers have won 15 sectional titles in a row and six of the last seven regional titles. Now, they’re making their second state finals appearance in three years and are seeking their first-ever state championship.

This group of Pioneer athletes also has a goal of winning three state championships in the same school year and it starts on Saturday.

“We have to go all the way,” Blickenstaff said. “We have to.”

The Panthers know they will have a large backing.

“The great thing about Pioneer is the support from the community,” Nies said. “The community just gets on the bandwagon. As you see, the fans, I think we were 2-to-1 on Cowan as far as number of fans here, and the support is just fabulous. If you have a program, the girls buy in and they want to be part of the success.”