La PORTE — Painfully close.
That may be the best way to describe the emotion for La Porte's volleyball team after losing by a mere three points to Penn in last year's sectional semifinals.
And if it prevailed, it likely would have hoisted the sectional trophy, meeting prohibitive underdog South Bend Adams in the final. The Kingsmen dashed those hopes, though, sending the Slicers to a heart-stopping five-set loss, including a 15-12 setback in the decisive set.
With Penn moving out of La Porte's sectional this season, that opened the door for it to claim the sectional. Now, the sectional-champion Slicers square off with their nemesis to the east in their own regional semifinal at 10 a.m. on Saturday with a spot in the Elite 8 on the line.
“They truly light a fire under us, so I'm very excited to see what comes of that and what kind of team comes out when we play them,” La Porte's Annalise Warnock said of the Kingsmen.
“Staying composed and being a team like we were for the sectional is going to be our main thing that will help lead us to victory hopefully.”
While the Slicers (27-5) meet Penn (28-6) in Saturday's first Class 4A La Porte Regional semifinal, Munster (27-7) and Crown Point (28-6) play in Saturday’s second match at roughly 11:30 a.m. The Slicers didn't face the Kingsmen in the regular season, but they eliminated La Porte from the sectional in 2017 and 2018 in a final and a semifinal, respectively.
The Slicers faced both the Mustangs and the Bulldogs twice this season, losing all four matches, although it was very competitive each time.
La Porte dropped a five-set decision to the Mustangs on August 22, losing the last three sets, including the last set, 15-13, and it fell in the decisive set by two points again in its own invitational on September 14, this time in three sets. The Slicers lost to Crown Point in four sets at home on August 29 with all four sets decided by four points or less, then fell in five sets, including 15-11 in the last set, on September 24 on the road to the Bulldogs. La Porte led two-sets-to-one in that contest before succumbing.
Close losses to all three regional teams has been a common theme for the Slicers.
First and foremost, however, La Porte coach Cassie Holmquest said her squad is concentrating on the Kingsmen.
“We’re focusing on Penn this week,” Holmquest said. “We’re practicing some things to go against them. And then, you have to turn around really fast and play again, so... We've played both Munster and Crown Point. We have an idea of what they're going to do.”
To win the Goshen Sectional, the Kingsmen beat Elkhart Memorial in three sets for the title. They also swept Elkhart Central in an opener, followed by outlasting Warsaw in five sets, including a 15-8 decision in the decisive set.
“I've seen some video, so we kind of have an idea of what we think they're going to do,” Holmquest said of Penn. “We're not overly focused on it. Like in general, we normally watch film. We get an idea of what they're going to do. We practice what we're going to do. So we're kind of 50/50 on focusing on them, but focusing on ourselves.”
So what especially stands out about the Kingsmen?
“They're pretty heavy in the middle,” Holmquest added. “It looks like they swing a lot out of the middle, so hopefully, we'll be able to defend that pretty quick.”
If the Slicers knock off Penn, they meet the Munster/Crown Point winner in the regional final at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday.
The Mustangs beat Merrillville, Lake Central and Hammond Morton to capture the East Chicago Central Sectional, losing only one set. The Bulldogs, meanwhile, didn't lose a set in cruising over Lowell, Chesterton and Valparaiso to earn their own sectional crown.
Holmquest understands that both Munster and Crown Point are stout teams.
“They're both fairly consistent teams,” Holmquest said. “If they get down a few points, they don't seem to let that bother them. They're able to work their way back up. Munster was different the second time we saw them. They had a few different kids. When we played Crown Point the first time, they hit out of the middle a lot, and then, when we played them the second time, they swang out of the right side a lot. So they have several different options, both teams do, of kids they can go to.”
In the end, La Porte recognizes that limiting mistakes and playing sound, fundamental volleyball will be of utmost importance against Penn.
“We just have to play to our ability,” Holmquest added. “If we play well in the game that we're able to play, we will be perfectly fine. We just have to play to our ability.”
Class 4A La Porte Regional
La Porte (27-5) vs. Penn (28-6), 10 a.m.
Munster (27-7) vs. Crown Point (28-6), to follow
Semifinal winners, 6:30 p.m.