MUNCIE — MUNCIE — Repeating a state championship is never an easy task. Some say it’s harder the second time around with pressure building throughout the season and intensifying as the postseason arrives.
Such was the case for the Avon Orioles’ volleyball team, winners of last year’s Class 4A state volleyball championship as they faced Carmel Saturday night for the second consecutive season in the state finals.
As it did last postseason, No. 2 Avon played its best when everything was on the line, defeating No. 1 Carmel 17-25, 25-19, 25-14, 25-18 for a second straight state title.
“It was a big motivation for them all season long,” Avon coach Scott McQueen said of his team’s desire to again reach the state finals. “It proved that last year wasn’t just a fluke. I don’t think people understand how hard it is to get here.
“There were a lot of jitters a lot of times this season because there was such a big target on our back along with the expectation that we were going to automatically make it back.”
Carmel took the first set after Avon had built an 11-5 lead, going on a 10-2 run thanks to a litany of Orioles’ errors before taking a 15-13 advantage. Carmel finished on a 10-4 run, but Avon pushed through the adversity and didn’t panic.
“We just looked at each other and said we needed to calm down and breathe,” Avon outside hitter Beth Prince said. “We were in our own heads. We looked at each other and literally said ‘You do you and I’ll do me.’”
Whatever Avon did between the first two sets worked, because the Orioles came out focused and began to assert its will on Carmel.
Avon never trailed in the second set as the Orioles handed Carmel its first set loss in 34 games.
Picking up where they left off, Avon jumped out to a 6-0 lead behind Brooke Peters’ serve in the third set and won by an 11-point margin. Rebekah Strange (kill), Calle Weddle (kill), Beth Prince (kill) and an Aly Matern ace closed out the set, giving Avon a decisive 2-1 match advantage.
Avon’s momentum carried into the fourth set and they surged out to a 9-5 advantage. Carmel would close to 12-9, but would never get any nearer than three points of Avon the rest of the way.
“When we kept getting a few blocks in a row, some of the (Carmel) girls, on their faces, it looked like they didn’t know what to do next,” Avon senior Lindsay Thompson said. “You could tell they wanted a tip or something. They just didn’t want the ball.”
Kills by Prince and Shelby Connors put Avon at match point and Strange finished Carmel off with one final kill.
“We bounced back and brought all we brought to Carmel,” Strange said.
Giving Avon more reason to celebrate was Rachel Griffin’s nomination as the Class 4A Mental Attitude Award Winner.
“I pride myself more on being a good teammate than being a good volleyball player,” Griffin said. “It just shows what I’m doing for my team, I’m just so honored.”
Prince (16), Calle Weddle (13) and Strange (11) all finished with double digit kills. Weddle and Prince led the Orioles with each scoring 18 points. Connors recorded a team-high seven blocks (2 solo, 5 assists) while Thompson and Weddle each totaled 4 assisted blocks.