ST. JOHN | Victoria Gardenhire was a lone freshman in the varsity rotation at Lake Central last season.
Five seniors have graduated from that team, and four sophomores have joined Gardenhire at the party -- and not just for the cookies in honor of fellow classmate Rylee Ollearis’ birthday Thursday.
“This year everything feels a lot more welcoming,” Gardenhire said.
When the Times No. 2 Indians have the chemistry they had during a 25-14, 25-13, 25-22 sweep of visiting Duneland Athletic Conference foe Chesterton, they are anything but welcoming for opponents.
After three losses in the past week, Lake Central had everything working Thursday. With one of the perennially toughest nonconference schedules in the area, the grueling DAC is on level with many of L.C.’s early matches.
“When we go play teams like Fort Wayne Carroll and Hamilton Southeastern that fast tempo prepares us for the conference season,” L.C. coach Tina Tinberg said. “We learn, we grow, we work at a faster pace. It prepares us well.”
The Indians (5-3, 1-0) were, for stints, several steps faster than the Trojans (2-2, 0-1), who started two freshmen in the middle due to the broken fibula senior Ali Ostrom suffered last Thursday.
“After the (loss) to Munster (Tuesday) we stepped it up,” said Gardenhire, who led the Indians with 11 kills.
“We realized tonight was the first conference match, and our goal this year is to win our conference, so we stepped up for the big game.”
The two opening games were swift, the second ending at 6:57 p.m. L.C. led 10-5 to start each one and eventually pulled away. The first game saw L.C. go up 18-6 and finish strong; Gardenhire had a kill and a solo block for the final two points of the second game.
The third game featured ties at 8-, 9-, 10- and 14-all.
At the 14-all mark, L.C. junior libero Danielle Ellis saved a long, long ball that passed just under the hanging scoreboard and would have hit the back wall at smaller gyms with a highlight-reel play, and the Indians went ahead for good on the game-turning volley.
“We thought that ball was going to land, so I think that shocked us,” Gardenhire said. “It brought us up and gave us a lot of energy.”
Dani Ellis had 13 digs, while twin sister Taylor had four. Senior Megan Malatestinic had five kills, two service aces and 10 digs while going 8-for-8 blocking. Birthday girl Ollearis had 11 set assists and nine digs.
Emily Marcus led Chesterton with six kills and 13 digs.
“They’re every bit as good as I was led to believe they were,” Chesterton coach TR Harlan said. “They’re well-coached, they’re in the right spots and they play hard. That’s a recipe for a lot of success.”