Wolves falter late

Photo by Jack ParodiMichigan City volleyball coach Jim Kaufman talks to his team during play in the Wolves' tournament Saturday. City took third place.

MICHIGAN CITY — Heading into their last game of the round-robin stage of the Michigan City Volleyball Invitational Saturday afternoon, the Wolves needed a win to have any chance of keeping their championship hopes alive.

This was easier said than done, though, considering they were about to play a Plymouth team that hadn't lost a set all day. The team in each pool with the most match wins would advance to the finals, and Plymouth had two victories compared to Michigan City's one. Mishawaka still needed to lose to South Bend Washington a game later, but a victory over Plymouth was necessary at the moment.

Michigan City didn't seem to be fazed at all by this pressure at the start, dominating Plymouth, 25-14 in the first set. But whatever drive the Wolves had for that first game dissipated, as they lost the next two sets and the match, forcing them to play in a third-place game with Concord. Michigan City won third place honors in straight sets, 26-24, 25-15, but the outcome was anything but what head coach Jim Kaufman wanted.

"After that first set (against Plymouth), I think they just got a little over-confident," Kaufman said. "We made a lot of mental mistakes, we couldn't serve or return well and ended up getting beat pretty bad. It's tough seeing things like that."

One thing Kaufman stressed that he was most disappointed about was a lack of mental fortitude and the drive to compete.

"You see us in those sets we won today, and we can beat anyone here if we play to our ability," Kaufman said. "But what really set us back was that there didn't seem to be any drive there. We as coaches can talk until we're blue in the face, but at some point the girls have to absorb what we're saying. They're so much more talented than how they played today."

Following the Wolves' loss to Plymouth, Kaufman took his two senior leaders, Reece Shirley and Aaliyah Briggs aside to get that point across. He said he needs the two of them to be more of coaches on the floor during games, as the rest of the team will likely respond to their instruction better — especially considering how shallow Michigan City's depth is.

Kaufman wasn't pleased with Saturday's outcome, but he knows the potential his team has if it can find that drive and fire and use it to its advantage. His girls have the talent to compete with just about anyone in the area, but their motivation from within one another will tell just how far they will go the rest of this year. 

Westville faced a diffucult task Saturday afternoon, as it faced off with much larger schools in Fort Wayne Concordia, Valparaiso and South Bend Washington.

Saturday wasn't as much about winning or upsetting some big shots, but more so as a learning opportunity for a Blackhawks squad that doesn't play teams of this caliber very often. They didn't win any sets, but that didn't matter.

"Coming in, I didn't care if we didn't win any matches," said head coach Dale Lake. "We weren't coming in here trying to win this thing. But it was great for our girls to learn how to play at this speed. We can't simulate that in practice, and the only way to get better is to play this kind of competition."

With the Porter County Conference tournament and sectionals just around the corner, Lake stressed that this tournament came at the perfect time for the Blackhawks. Playing teams like they did will help prepare them for the talent they'll face in postseason play. By the end of the day, Westville hung in tight with a talented Valparaiso team, putting up a respectable 17 points in the final set. It even beat Washington in dominant fashion, 25-16, 25-13, in the fourth-place match.

"The biggest thing we learned how to do today was getting in the right positions," Lake said. "When you have girls hitting the ball as hard at you as a lot of these girls were, you really have to be in the correct spots. You could see that by the end of the day, we really improved in doing that."

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