Royals, Millers win epic first-round matches

Reporter Sports Editor
Attention coaches: Do you need proof to your teams that in the post-season, they have to be ready to play in the first round of sectionals?
Just look no further than what happened at the Class 4A volleyball Sectional 8 at Noblesville Thursday. Both first-round matches went to five sets, with No. 8-ranked Hamilton Southeastern prevailing over No. 6 Fishers, 25-22, 19-25, 25-20, 9-25, 15-13, and the host Millers saving a match point to get past Carmel, 21-25, 25-19, 25-11, 19-25, 16-14.
For their dramatic victories, those two teams get – a trip to Saturday morning’s first semi-final. The Royals and Noblesville will play at 11 a.m., with the other semi-final, between Westfield and Anderson, to follow immediately afterwards.
The first set between Southeastern and the Tigers was tight until the Royals broke through for four straight points to jump ahead 12-8. Southeastern got up by as much as 19-14 before Fishers made a four-point run, aided by an ace from Rose Duffy. HSE’s Taylor Shelton ended that run with a kill, and Southeastern survived the back-and-forth for the remainder of the set.
It was the Tigers’ turn to take the early lead in the second set, and they eventually got ahead 18-11, thanks to a couple aces from Audrey Haworth, who also served an ace on set point to tie the match at one set all.
Fishers again bolted out in front in the third set, jumping out to an 11-6 lead. The Royals rushed off on a five-point run to tie the score at 11-all, with Olivia Phillips and Bria King putting down kills, then Phillips also served an ace.
The Tigers clawed their way back to a 16-13 lead before Southeastern went on another run to carry them to a 2-1 sets lead. Lark Jones made two successful blocks during the run, while Meredith Phillips and Taylor Shelton both put down kills.
Fishers rampaged through the fourth set, scoring 11 straight points from 12-7. Elizabeth Weeks was tough at the net, making four blocks in the set, including the one that gave the Tigers the set. On to a deciding fifth set.
Shelton hit a kill to get HSE ahead 7-4, and that was the biggest lead of the set. Fishers led 12-11 after Haworth hit another ace, then led 13-12, but Southeastern scored the next three points to take the match, with Meredith Phillips hitting the kill that started the run.
“We dealt with it a week ago today,” said HSE coach Jason Young. “We went to McCutcheon and had a five-set war, and in the fourth set we got embarrassed, much like we got embarrassed today in the fourth set. And again, our senior leadership just stepped up and made sure we won that fifth set, just like we did last Thursday. They came through again.”
Meredith finished the match with 16 kills, while her sister Olivia dished out 34 assists and served two aces. Grace Kane had two aces and 30 defensive digs. Jones and Shelton each made 3.5 blocks.
“That could’ve gone either way,” said Young. “Last year we were in the same war with Carmel and it went the other way. Obviously nice to get a win against one of the best teams in the state. That’s a four-loss team, and very talented team, coached extremely well.”
Southeastern improved to 25-8 after the win, while Fishers ended its season at 24-4.
Could anything top that match for drama? It turns out, yes it could.
Carmel got off to a 9-5 lead in the first set of the second semi-final, but Noblesville worked its way back to a 14-13 lead after Lexie Almodovar served an ace.
The Greyhounds scored five points in a row for 18-14, thanks to a pair of kills from Lexi Brehl, and Yara Batista helped out with a kill. The Millers again came back to tie the game at 18-18; Emily Kiser and Alexa Roberts hit kills, while Grace Harris scored a block. Carmel used its serving to eventually take the set, with Avery Lam hitting an ace on set point.
Another ace – this one by Sophie Oliphant – gave the ‘Hounds an 11-6 lead in the second set. Noblesville started working its way back into the set, and Stephanie Meysembourg’s ace pushed the Millers ahead 18-17. Noblesville scored seven of the next nine points to take the set, with Almodovar and Kiser teaming up for a successful block on set point.
The Millers never trailed in the third set, leaping out to a 5-1 lead after Maddie Hine hit an ace. Noblesville’s lead soon became 9-3, then 15-7, then 21-8 as the Millers used solid serving, hitting and blocking to cruise through.
Noblesville led 10-5 in the fourth set, then Carmel made another move. Senior Madeline Armstrong hit a kill to tie the match at 14-14, then Kailey Akins’ kill gave the Greyhounds a 21-17 lead. Carmel won four of the last six points to take the match into a fifth set.
“We’ve had enough of those types of matches this year that we didn’t freak out when we got back in that situation again,” said Millers coach Steve Hawthorne. “Carmel’s a much-improved team over the season. I’ll definitely tip my hat off to them. They really gave us a great fight.”
Neither team led by more than two points in the decider. The Greyhounds’ 2-0 lead turned into a 5-3 Miller lead, which turned into an 11-9 Carmel lead. A kill from Lexie Bowler and an ace by Olivia Kile tied the match at 11-11.
Gabby Smith gave the Greyhounds a match point at 14-13 with a kill, but Noblesville saved it. Brenna Everingham hit an ace to put the Millers up 15-14, and the next point gave Noblesville the match.
Almodovar put down 21 kills for the Millers, with Roberts hitting 15, Bowler 10 and Kiser seven. Hine handed out 55 assists and served three aces, with Meysembourg hitting three aces also.
Everingham collected 26 digs, with Hine getting 15, Meysembourg 11 and Almodovar 10. Harris had an outstanding game at the net with six blocks, while Kiser stuffed five blocks.
“We still had some ups and downs,” said Hawthorne. “There were some times where we were struggling to take care of that first contact. The girls really did a great job of just bringing it together at the end. when we really needed it.”
The Millers are now 20-13 for the season, with Carmel finishing the year at 18-16.

The Noblesville volleyball team celebrated after winning a five-set first-round sectional match over Carmel Thursday at The Mill. The Millers will play Hamilton Southeastern, also a five-set winner over Fishers on Thursday, in Saturday’s semi-finals. (Kirk Green)

Fishers’ Rose Duffy goes for the dig after Elizabeth Weeks (2) deflects a kill attempt during the Tigers’ sectional match with Hamilton Southeastern Thursday at Noblesville. (Kirk Green)