Olympians overcome snag, roll to sectional title

SHELBYVILLE — After rolling through the first two sets in Saturday night’s sectional volleyball final, Columbus East found itself locked in a third-set battle with host Shelbyville.

But the Olympians regained the form that carried them to east wins in the first two sets. They scored 12 of the final 13 points to finish off a 25-7, 25-13, 25-15 victory and their fourth consecutive sectional title.

“I felt like as the game went on, we kept getting better,” said Bailey Western, who controlled the middle with a team-high seven blocks. “The third set, we slowed down a little bit, but then we brought it back together.”

The win puts Class 4A co-No. 10 East (28-9) in Tuesday’s regional at 4A No. 4 Center Grove. The winner advances to Saturday’s Seymour Semistate.

The Olympians had little trouble the first set, jumping out to a 10-2 lead and cruising from there. Brooke Banister served the final four points, three of which were aces.

East faced a little more resistance in the second set but was in control the whole way. The set ended with a kill by Kortney Thalls.

In the third set, the Golden Bears led by one point seven times, the last coming at 14-13. But then the Olympians regained serve to tie it, and Seena Greiwe served six consecutive points for a 20-14 lead. Then after a Shelbyville point, East regained serve, and Kendal Williams served the final four points, capped by a kill from Brooke Statler.

“I don’t think it should have been that close in the beginning,” said Katie Mack, who had 11 kills, three blocks and 13 digs. “I think one of our problems is that after we beat a team by so much those first two sets, we kind of let up way more than we should. We took that for granted, and that got in our heads and we started making errors on our side of the net. We finally realized what we were doing, and we fixed it.”

The Olympians never allowed the Golden Bears to score more than three points in a row.

“That’s something that we’ve preached a little bit,” East coach Stacie Pagnard said. “We’ve talked to the girls about only letting them serve once per rotation and get out of it. If we can pass, I’m confident enough in our offense that we should be able to side out with any team that we play.”

Cortney VanLiew led the Olympians with 14 kills and 17 digs, while Williams recorded 40 assists, and Banister served the three aces. Western added 11 blocks, Thalls had three digs and AJ Pollert had 14 digs.

“I feel like our ball control and our defense kept us alive, and our offense rolls from there,” Pagnard said.

In Saturday morning’s semifinals, East swept Bloomington North 25-19, 25-21, 25-19. VanLiew recorded 14 kills and 23 digs, Williams had 41 assists and two aces. Western and Thalls each had two blocks, Thalls pounded 13 kills and Mack added 12 kills, 16 digs and two aces.

The sectional crown is the fourth in the high school careers of seniors Lauren Baugh, Mack, Statler and Thalls.

“It’s kind of a weight off our shoulders,” Mack said. “It’s awesome to be able to go through with those three other seniors and have that experience every year.”

The sectional title is the second for Pagnard, who guided Westfield to the final four in 2011. She is in her first season with the Olympians.

“Coming in and being new, there was a lot of buy-in on their part, and I couldn’t be more proud of them and their acceptance and their will to work,” Pagnard said.

East will try for its third regional title in four years on Tuesday at Center Grove.

“I’m confident because I know we’ve worked on everything,” VanLiew said. “We just keep improving.”

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Ted Schultz is sports editor for The Republic. He can be reached at tschultz@therepublic.com or 812-379-5628.