Checking the box

Photo by Scott AllenMicah Ruhe digs out a spike in front of teammate Reece Shirley during Michigan City's match with New Prairie on Thursday. Ruhe had 18 digs.

MICHIGAN CITY — It's a box none of New Prairie's senior volleyball players has been able to check in their careers, at least not until Thursday.

The Cougars downed Michigan City 25-21, 25-23, 25-21, halting a recent run by the Wolves in the head-to-head series.

"I know I've been wanting to beat them since freshman year because every time we've played them, we've lost," NP's Katie Hancock said. "It's really good to beat them, especially in three. I think we had a little more urgency than them. I think they underestimated us maybe a little coming in because of past years."

Elise Swistek delivered 15 kills and Hancock registered nine, teaming with Ellie Michaelis on eight blocks as the Cougars were able to contain Michigan City's attack.

"I think we were really aggressive at the net," New Prairie coach Jordan Staus said. "We definitely had more options. I know most of the Michigan City kids because I also coach club, then I came and watched them play Saturday. It was an advantage for me to come here and say they have a tendency to do this. I told girls, we're going to watch for this. A lot of the girls have high volleyball IQ, so I can tell them this is what's going to happen and they understand the process."

That aspect of it is coming easier to Michaelis as she moves into her sophomore season and a more prominent role.

"Last year, I was the only freshman for a while," she said. "Now I'm older, so I'm a role model to other people. We're getting more confident in ourselves. I feel like we just relaxed more and played as one team. We just worked together."

City (1-1) had a chance to even the match at one, leading 23-21 in the second set, but the Cougars countered with four straight points, capped by a Hancock tip, to take a two-game lead.

"I kind of just did it," Hancock said of the winner. "I look around to see what's open, then go with what's going to work."

New Prairie built a sizable margin in game three before having to resist a Wolves to complete the sweep.

"Winning that second game, I was like, guys, we've got to get this done now in three," Staus said. "On my app, it shows every single play and for a while, it was going point for us, point for them. We have to learn how to string those points together rather than just going back and forth. I think it's just keeping that focus the entire match. It's a good win. They're still a quality program. We lost to them in four last year and I think it actually helped us build for the edn of the season, knowing we could compete with them."

Michaelis added five kills and Shaye Tolch made 26 assists for the Cougars.

"It's good to mix it up. That's what (Staus) always tells us to do," Hancock said. "It keeps the blockers on their toes and all the passers, too."

Reece Shirley's 10 kills topped the Wolves with Aaliyah Briggs and Ellery Dolezal scoring seven each.

"There's just a little bit of inexperience we have with our junior middle and junior outside who haven't played at the varsity level until last year," MC coach Jim Kaufman said. "They're trying to get up to the speed of the game. I changed lineup the first game a little bit, then the second game, it was even a little more different. They fought through it, but there was some confusion. Elise is the real deal. She can put it wherever she wants and we didn't make some adjustments."

City's 13 service errors were Kaufman's biggest concern.

"That could've been the difference right there," he said. "We need to stay focused on the serves. We work on it every day. It was just one of those off serving days."

The Wolves play in the Dunes tournament Saturday, while the Cougars hope to get a shot at another Duneland Conference team in the La Porte Invitational.

"I think we have a really good chance again this year," Hancock said. "We have most of the same people and we all have an urgency to want to go far again. I feel like everybody is expecting us to, but it has to be us. We can't be concentrating on that. We have to push ourselves to be our best every time out there."

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