By Josh Brown
CASSTOWN — For the past three years, the Casstown Clash volleyball tournament has marked a turning point for both Miami East and Tippecanoe.
Where facing some of the best competition that Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana have to offer will lead the Vikings and Red Devils this season remains to be seen.
Miami East (10-4) faced a pair of top-20 teams from Division I, opening with an easy win over Bellmont (Ind.) before falling in a tough three-set semifinal match to St. Francis DeSales and then being swept by Toledo Notre Dame Academy to finish in fourth place. The Red Devils (9-4), meanwhile, lost to Henry Clay in the first round, bounced back with a close victory over Adams Central and then lost to Bellmont to take sixth place Saturday at Miami East High School.
For Miami East, the tournament always serves to pave the way for a run at the D-III state championship later in the year by giving the Vikings a look at state-caliber competition.
“We want the girls looking at the big picture,” Miami East coach Dan Peterson said. “We want to have teams here that will prepare us for the state tournament. Even during the summer, we’re trying to prepare for that. We played DeSales in the summer, and they really took it to us. So it was good to see the response and how far we’ve come, just from the summer to now.”
The DeSales match was possibly the highlight of the day for the Vikings, despite the loss. After routing Bellmont 25-18, 25-19 in the opening round, East struggled to get going and fell behind 18-9 to the No. 15 team in D-I.
The Vikings — ranked 11th in D-III — began chipping away, though, forcing a timeout at 20-14 and then another one down 22-19 after an ace by Jonni Parker. Miami East got back to within two at 22-20 before an error ended the run, with DeSales finishing off the set 25-20.
In the second set, East tied the score at 18-18 gave the ball to Kyndall Hellyer, and the junior served the next six points to help the Vikings post a 25-19 win and even the match. And in the final set, the score was tied at 18-18 again before DeSales built a small lead. Miami East tied the score at 23-23 on three straight kills by Parker, but a big DeSales kill and an error finished things off and put DeSales in the title match.
“We talked in that first set about how we had to stop worrying about the score and just start worrying about momentum,” Peterson said. “We needed to get some momentum heading into the second set. We had a comeback there in that first set that really carried over into that second set. And then the third was just a battle back and forth — but that’s why we have teams like that here — to test our mental resolve, to test our toughness. It was a good response after that first set.”
Against Notre Dame Academy, the No. 10 team in D-I, the Vikings simply couldn’t put anything together. The Vikings feel behind 21-14 and dropped the opening set 25-17, then they fell behind 15-9 before beginning another rally, even forcing a timeout while trailing only 18-16. Notre Dame scored the next three points before the Vikings scored again, though, sealing the match with a 25-17 win.
“Yeah, we’d just played a three-set match, but they’d played two matches earlier, too,” Peterson said. “We weren’t at a disadvantage or anything. That’s part of being mentally tough, too. But we went toe-to-toe with two of the top D-I schools in Ohio.
“There are things we can improve on, obviously. But we played at a pretty high level most of the day. And even the negatives, they’re all teachable moments that will help us get ready for those last eight matches (the state tournament).”
Tippecanoe, meanwhile, can easily point to last year’s Casstown Clash as its turning point. Immediately following it, the Devils won 9 of their last 10 to close the season and 13 of 14 total, reaching the regional semifinal before falling to Fenwick.
“Two years in a row it has been, this could be the third,” Tippecanoe coach Howard Garcia said. “We played okay against the tougher teams that we see here, then we go in against the teams we normally face, recognize things quicker and adjust quicker.
“The difference is when you rely so much on senior experience like we did last year, those kids have adjusted and accepted their roles. Now for the ones left behind, they’re being confronted with leading instead of following. And when that happens, you can either accept it or complain about it. The older kids having to lead others but being inconsistent, that’s where we are.”
The Devils began the day slow, falling 25-16, 25-12 to Henry Clay in the opening round. They swept Adams Central in the second round, though, winning a pair of extra-point battles 26-24 and 27-25.
In the fifth-place match against Bellmont, though, Tippecanoe fell victim to two long service runs — a 12-point run in the first set and then a seven-point run in the second, falling 25-11, 25-16 and taking sixth place.
“It was 5-3 them, and then it was 17-3 in that first set,” Garcia said. “We didn’t adjust. It was a top-spin serve, and we didn’t move up right away. Volleyball games are short. Something like that should just be a natural adjustment instead of having to be told to. If you can’t make that adjustment right there, you’re going to have those big swings.
“It’s your choice. You have two options — you can either confront the challenge, or you can back off. If you confront the challenge, there’s still no guarantee — but you still give yourself a chance. If you back off, though, you’ve already admitted defeat. And all of that’s just the mental aspect of the game.”
Tippecanoe faces an old Central Buckeye Conference foe, Kenton Ridge, on Monday, while Miami East faces Arcanum on Tuesday.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.