A lot can change in just six short months.
Last November, then-Andrean junior Serena Wagner was hoisting the IHSAA Class 2A state title above her head as the 59ers knocked off Christian Academy 3-0 in the state championship game at Worthen Arena in Muncie.
While the 59ers were losing a pair of talented sisters in Christina and Jenna Dal Santo to graduation, Wagner was expected to headline a strong group of returners that would have Andrean positioned to make a run at defending its state title. By April, all that had changed as Wagner was suddenly looking for a new school after an email changed everything for the longtime Butler commit.
“I had confronted Andrean about graduating early, so I could go to Butler in January (of my senior year) and we agreed upon everything,” Wagner said. “I changed my classes around and was on path to graduate at semester. I’d gone through the whole process and I was on track. Then I got told in an email that they weren’t going to let me do that, that I’d have to stay until May. That hurt me a lot.”
Andrean is part of the Diocese of Gary along with Bishop Noll and Marquette Catholic. According to Andrean principal Dr. Anthony Bonta, he talked with the principals of the other two schools and the three reaffirmed the policy that graduation from any one of the schools required a full four years of completion.
Finding out she couldn’t graduate early wasn’t the only blow Wagner suffered last spring. Her grandfather and younger cousin both passed away close to one another. Coupled with some other family changes, Wagner was left reeling.
“It just persuaded me that I needed a new start,” Wagner said. “It was hard, and not just for me. My mom had coached me each of my first three years at Andrean and now she wasn’t going to be doing that anymore. Walking out of (Andrean) on the last day of classes was hard, saying goodbye to my old teammates and to Coach (Grant) Bell — he’ll always be my mentor.”
Bell was quick to praise Wagner when reached earlier this week as he begins to prepare for a state title defense that is now down a player that had 174 kills, 67 aces, 85 blocks, 345 digs and 1,059 assists last season.
“I wish all the best for Serena going forward,” Bell said. “She’s been a great player for us for three years and we’ll always be close. I still plan on going to her national intent signing and we’ll continue to stay in contact.”
Bell’s loss is Katie Lenard’s gain as Wagner will now be attending her hometown Valparaiso High School where she plans to play for the Vikings this fall before graduating in the winter and enrolling at Butler in January. Wagner joined the team in the beginning of June for summer workouts and has made a quick transition onto the roster.
“Everyone took her in really well and I’m happy with the way everyone has responded to her,” Lenard said. “I knew of her obviously from being in the area. I knew she was a good player. She’s been excellent to work with and coach so far.”
For Wagner’s part, she’s tried to fit in as best she could with her new teammates, many of which she has known from the club circuit and from growing up in Valparaiso. She hasn’t been walking into the gym flaunting off her state championship ring, but simply is trying to become part of the team.
“It was difficult at first, not knowing anybody,” Wagner said. “I’m just trying to create that bond. They have included me and now I feel like I’m part of the Valpo family. The tradition here is always being together and that’s our motto for the season. I’m excited to be here.”