By Justin Whitaker
— Is the second time the charm?
That is the question coach Scott McQueen and the Avon Orioles volleyball team are asking themselves as they prepare for the Class 4A state volleyball finals for the second year in a row.
After losing to Penn (3-1) in the 2011 state championship, the Orioles are headed back to Worthen Arena in Muncie looking for redemption. Saturday’s game is against Class 4A No. 2-ranked Carmel.
“It’s been our goal all season long and now that we are here, our focus is on still doing the skills that have made us successful in the past six matches,” McQueen said.
During the six game postseason run, Avon has won 18 sets and lost only three.
They tore through sectional 11 at Perry Meridian to win their 12th sectional title in a row. The Orioles beat Decatur Central (3-0), Pike (3-0) and No. 7-ranked Perry Meridian (3-0) in the sectional championship.
Martinsville (29-4) provided the next obstacle for Avon in the one-game regional. The Orioles stood on the brink of elimination after winning the first set, 25-15, and losing the next two, 19-25 and 22-25. But Avon bounced back to win the final two sets 25-22 and 15-10 to claim its third straight regional crown.
In the morning game of semistate, the Orioles handled No. 3-ranked Columbus East 3-0 (25-18, 25-23, 25-18). Avon met No. 10-rated Cathedral with a state championship appearance on the line in the evening game of the Seymour semistate. The Orioles weathered a rough second set and won 3-1 (25-17, 15-25, 25-20, 25-17).
Heading into the state finals, Avon is firing on all cylinders.
“We’ve always taken the regular season as basically a really long preseason. It’s just taken time for our kids to get in their most comfortable roles,” McQueen said. “One of the things that have been pretty neat about the postseason is we’ve had different people step up every match.”
In comparing the two state run teams, the 2012 campaign was filled with more uncertainty. The 2011 Orioles were not only ranked No. 1 in the state, but they were rated one of the best teams in the country and was undefeated until the state finals game (39-1). McQueen felt last season that there were times when it “sometimes came easier than maybe it should have.”
This season has been more trying for Avon after two early back-to-back losses to Carmel and Westfield.
“This year we’ve definitely had some peaks and valleys,” McQueen said. “The target has been a little bit bigger than in past years and this just makes it a little more gratifying.”
The match against the Greyhounds was the Orioles’ third game of the season and Carmel won 3-0 (25-20, 25-16, 25-17).
“They played well and we didn’t play well,” McQueen said of the first meeting. “Sometimes those are relative to each other. They did some things that made us not do so well and we did some things badly that made them look a little bit better.”
The Greyhounds sit 33-1 on the season with their only loss coming against Bishop Chatard in the fifth set by a score of 16-14.
With all of Avon’s recent success, they are typically the one being hunted. Not the underdog.
But headed into the rematch, McQueen knows what the Orioles are facing in Carmel.
“They are a good team. They are tall, they are athletic, they play very good defense and they deserve all of the accolades they have gotten,” he said. “They are probably an expected opponent for the state finals.”
Even with the elevated stage of playing in the state championship, Avon needs to do the same things they always try to do in order to win.
“We are going to have to be composed. We definitely understand there are going to be some wild fluctuations of emotions,” McQueen said. “And it’s going to be the same thing as most of the time for us. It’s going to be how we handle the ball and how we serve. When we do that, we’ve got some good athletic kids who can definitely take some good swings.”
In his 11th year as coach for Avon, McQueen appreciates the progress the volleyball program has made and says that there wouldn’t be back-to-back state appearances without the former players such as Katie Griffin, Paige Dossey and Kara Sorenson blazing the trail.
“We are all very honored to be here. It hasn’t just been the past couple years of work, it’s been a lot of work and it’s the culmination of a lot of years,” McQueen said. “All of the kids that have been in the program the 11 years I’ve been there are a big part of why we are where we are at.”