There's an empty spot on the wall in “The Cage” that overlooks the Concordia Lutheranvolleyball team as it practices every day. It sits between banners recognizing volleyball state runner-ups.
It's a daily reminder of exactly what previous players have done to build the program. It is also a hole that this team wants to fill.
“Every year we look up at that spot that's sitting up there, and wetalk about hanging that banner,” Concordia head coach Trisha Miller said. “I've been at Concordia for six years, and we just feel like it's about tradition. It's not just about the girls playing, and they understand people have paved that path for them to have this opportunity.”
Concordia is one step away from filling that spot this season. The No. 7 Cadets (29-7) play No. 9 Brebeuf Jesuit (19-12) in the Class 3A state volleyball championship at 3 p.m. Saturday at Worthen Arena on Ball State University's campus.
The match is a rematch of the last time Concordia made the state finals in 2003, when it lost in four sets. This time, Concordia is coming into the match playing some of its best volleyball of the season. The Cadets have beaten three top-six teams in the state in their last three postseason matches. This included a 3-0 sweep of No. 1 Mishawaka Marian in the semistate championship.
“We are definitely peaking a lot more right now and are all working together real well,” said junior Tionna Williams, who led the team with 45 kills at semistate. “That is a huge confidence boost to know what we are capable of.”
Williams, who has committed to play volleyball at Wisconsin, is just one of many Cadets playing to their potential. The junior class has been exceptional lately as Rachel Kammeyer (58 assists at semistate) and Grace Miller (74 digs at semistate) both were indispensable during the tournament run.
“Tionna is an elite player, she's unbelievable and certainly what the other team is focused on, but it opens up a whole new game for the rest of the kids,” Miller said. “As a team, everybody does their job, and that's why I'm so proud of them because it's not about one person, it's about all of them.”
This team chemistry will be instrumental this weekend as Brebeuf has the experience of playing in the state championship match. The Braves have made it to the match in five of the past seven years. Concordia hasn't made it this far since 2003.
“One of the things we've talked about all year is how to handle pressure because obviously there is always pressure in life or in volleyball situations,” Miller said. “We want to prepare for everysituation so that we can step on the floor knowing we have confidence and we are going to do our very best.”
While Concordia's blocking and hitting, led by Williams, have been key in the state tournament, Brebeuf employs a quick offense, Miller said. The Braves also match Concordia with strong hitters of their own and aggressive serving putting an even bigger emphasis on the Cadets defense.
“Defense wins and it's going to be a key factor in this match,”Williams said. “We played outstanding defense at semistate, and if we get it going our blocking and hitting comes with it.
"If the Cadets can put it all together they won't be winning the school's first state championship but also the first one for the SAC since Snider in 1991. It would be the first championship for the area since Bellmont in 2010.
But the potential to make history isn't what this team is worried about. It just wants to make sure there isn't a piece of wall to look at anymore in The Cage.
“If we're paving the path for the area, for Concordia, we're proud of that because we've done it right,” Miller said. “These kids have great character, and they've made great decisions along the way and we hope to make Saturday our day, but our focus is on Brebeuf.
“We aren't going down there to get second place, and I'm sure they are saying the same thing, but we've got work to do today so we're focusing forward.”