GRIFFITH | Although Hanover Central has a history of winning regular-season and league tournament titles in the Porter County Conference, Savanna Zakman has not found rousing amounts of respect in the team’s first season outside of the PCC.
“People underestimate Hanover,” Zakman said. “We practice trying to pull the rugs out from other teams’ feet. You can’t underestimate any other teams, and we know that because we are used to being overlooked.”
The Wildcats removed rugs from beneath sneaker soles four times Saturday to win the Griffith Invitational. Hanover Central won its pool with three victories over current Greater South Shore Conference foes in the morning and then beat host Griffith 25-14, 25-16 in the championship in the afternoon.
Hanover relentlessly defeated the Panthers in the final, coming back from a 4-3 deficit in the first game to run to a win and then leading the second set 6-0 and cruising to the title.
“You’ve still always got to expect the unexpected and keep fighting and know that the game’s not done until you’re shaking the other team’s hand,” Zakman said.
Zakman, a junior, has been playing club volleyball since she was 10 and was able to rally her teammates to have a chip on their collective shoulder from the opening match with rival Wheeler through the title game. After a sweep of North Newton, Hanover’s third match began with eventual third-place finisher Whiting taking the first set 25-23 in the only three-game match of the entire eight-team tournament.
The ’Cats scratched back to win 25-14 and 15-8.
“We got better throughout the day,” first-year Hanover Central coach Erin Zeller said. “The girls needed to wake up and continue to get better hits and better communication. We didn’t come here to take third. We came here to win.”
The Wildcats (14-2) have won 13 of their last 14 matches, only losing to Kankakee Valley in that span. Saturday was their first tournament of the season.
“We tried to wake up and get ourselves ready, and we were all energetic and got ourselves pumped,” Hanover’s Sam Guglielmo said. “I think we’re hitting pretty well, and the defense is really good.”
Guglielmo said the Wildcats were not able to match the Panthers in height, so hitting around Griffith’s Roldan sisters, Lisette and Talia, was important in the title game.
Griffith coach Kristi Hoese said the Panthers (10-9) weren’t prepared for the intensity of the title game after breezing to two-set wins over Morton, Calumet and Gavit and outscoring opponents 150-86.
“We got flat when we were down 6-0 in the second game,” Hoese said. “Hanover Central is good, and when we’re on, we’re good. But we just couldn’t fight for those last two games.”