The region was knocked out of the girls volleyball season quickly Saturday morning with three teams playing — Lake Central, Andrean and Marquette Catholic — and without one winning a game.
It was a wake-up call to area volleyball teams and coaches about the talent that permeates the rest of the state. It should also serve as a reminder of why out-of-area tournaments are a must on the schedule.
"They're on a whole other level," Lake Central coach Tina Tinberg said after her team lost to Carmel. "From the tempo of the game to controlling the game, it's a whole different game for what we are used to playing."
After the IHSAA opted for a one-game regional playoff for the 2011 season, four local teams won their first regional titles in decades, some for the first time ever. Andrean was the only team from that group to repeat as champion.
Likewise, Lake Central won its first regional championship since 1994 after playing one of the most exhaustive marathon matches of the season: a five-game win against Munster that included seven match points and a 21-19 final game.
Though the IHSAA's volleyball season doesn't end until next week's state championship matches at Ball State, the region's season deserves a look back.
Redemption x2: Valparaiso bested LaPorte for the 2011 sectional title and the Slicers found their redemption with a pair of wins in the regular season.
LaPorte won the first match in five games, including an extra-long second game and a two-point win in the third.
"I have six seniors that went into that huddle and said there was no way we were losing this game," LaPorte coach Erin Parker said. "Sometimes you have to let the players do their thing and they decided right there that we weren't going to lose. I'm blessed to be able to coach this group."
When LaPorte and Valparaiso — Nos. 1 and tied for 2 in the Duneland Athletic Conference — drew each other in the sectional, the map was drawn for the final rematch. The Vikings won their second consecutive sectional title by beating LaPorte first, instead of last.
"We had two letdowns against LaPorte this season, and I didn't want a third letdown," Valparaiso coach Katie Lenard said. "I wanted the one that mattered the most."
New kids on the block: Gavit made more than a few teams take notice this season with a 22-12 season, including a 3-1 record in the pool play round of the Griffith Tournament and an appearance in the title game.
The Gladiators need to get used to that winning to find a way to take the big games.
Family matters: In St. John, Tinberg's daughters, Dani and Taylor Ellis, are sophomore defensive specialists.
The success of this season, as well as a club season that included a second-place finish at USAV Nationals, has been particularly extraordinary.
"This has been a meaningful and special season for us," Tinberg said. "For my own daughters to be a part of that has been great. But I hope all of our kids here have been inspired by the talent that they saw and know that there's a lot work to be done."
This column represents the writer's opinion. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.