WASHINGTON TWP. | Playing Pioneer in Tuesday’s regional title game was nothing new for Washington Township senior Caitlyn Lembke.
The four-year starter had played against the Panthers in each of her first three years with the Senators, including a regional championship in 2011.
What changed for the setter was that a loss wouldn’t just signify the end of the season, but the end of the career along with her four other senior teammates.
“That was all that I was thinking about during that last match,” Lembke said. “I just didn’t want this to end. All five of us got together and we said that we needed to fight.”
Washington Twp. needed a little bit of luck and a whole lot of skill to knock off Pioneer for just the second time in five years. With their regional nemesis in the rearview mirror, the Senators (27-8) turn their attention to Lafayette Central Catholic (27-9) in Saturday’s semistate opener at Caston. Wes-Del (29-6) and Fort Wayne Blackhawk (24-8) meet in the other semifinal match.
“We’re going to need to play our game and go in there knowing that we can win,” Lembke said. “We’ve all got a positive mindset going in to this weekend.”
Part of that mindset comes from the experience that the Senators picked up when they lost to Wes-Del in the 2011 semistate semifinals. Lembke and her classmates were sophomores that season and it was the last time that Lembke only rotated in the back. The senior became an all-around player last year when second-year coach Kevin Labaj took over the program.
“The setter is such an important position in our game,” Labaj said. “I tell everyone that she is the drummer in the band. She sets the beat for the rest of the team. She’s always keeping everyone in good spirits and she’s always executing good decision making.”
The Senators jumped out to a one-game lead against eventual state champion Wes-Del two years ago before dropping a heartbreaking 27-25 decision in the second game. The Warriors pulled out a 25-22 win in the third game and then ended Washington Twp.’s first semistate appearance in school history with a 25-14 victory.
Two years later and Lembke believes that her senior teammates learned a lot from that defeat which helped spur the Senators to a regional title on Tuesday night.
“It was such an up-and-down roller coaster,” Lembke said. “We pushed them at every point and it was very exhausting. We showed our determination by the way we came together. We’ll use all of that to get ready for this weekend.”