LAKE STATION | Wheeler saved its best comeback for last.
The Bearcats fought back from early deficits on Saturday against Greater South Shore Conference foe Bishop Noll to claim the first two games of the Class 2A Lake Station Sectional volleyball tournament championship, then learned the Warriors know a little something about comebacks, as well.
Bishop Noll forced a fifth and deciding game before Wheeler steadied itself to post a 25-19, 25-22, 11-25, 22-25, 15-7 victory. The sectional title was the third straight for Wheeler (20-14), which now advances to face the winner of the Winamac Sectional Nov. 12 in regional play. The Bearcats were eliminated last year at the regional level.
"Each (sectional title) feels different," said Wheeler's Meghan Zappia, one of only four seniors on the squad. "I never lose the feeling of winning a sectional title. It's all great to me."
Wheeler also got contributions from sophomores Haley Plowthow, Shannon Doyle and Natalie Roe in the deciding game. Roe had three of her game-high 23 assists early in the fifth game to help stake the Bearcats to an 8-2 lead. Doyle contributed four of her 11 kills in the deciding game, and the last of the 16 kills by Plowthow Saturday closed out the match.
"We just put it all on the floor," said Doyle of the fifth game. "Everything we had."
Bishop Noll's comeback was triggered midway through the third game by a 10-point service game by senior Sophie Hernandez. An Alyce Jakubielski block for point and an ace by Hernandez closed out the run and gave the Warriors a 24-10 lead. Two points later, a kill by Elena Palomo kept Bishop Noll's hopes alive.
"I wasn't surprised that we came back," said Jakubielski, who finished the night with seven kills. "Other people might have been surprised, but I knew if we really, really tried, we could make a comeback, and we did. It just didn't cut it this time."
As it did in the preceding three games, Bishop Noll jumped to an early lead in the fourth game. The Bearcats battled back off unforced errors by the Warriors to even the score before the Warriors regrouped and won the final four points of the game.
"The last five matches of the season we played we won in five, and we won by coming back," Bishop Noll coach Emilio Torres said. "I told the girls coming into the final game that it was time to pull it together. They had fought those last two sets, and there were a lot of girls that really contributed for us tonight."
Bishop Noll advanced to the championship match with a five-set, come-from-behind win in the semifinals earlier in the day against Hanover Central. Wheeler, in contrast, breezed through a three-game semifinal win against River Forest.
"If the right team shows up -- and by that I mean if we play the way we can -- I think we have a chance (to advance at regionals)," Wheeler coach Shyoh Karshner said.