LAGRANGE — As he left the gym at Keystone High School, Brookside volleyball coach Ted Whitsel had a final message for Wildcats’ coach Bud Trego.
“Do me a favor, don’t pick my bracket. Really, I don’t want to see you in my bracket, Bud,” Whitsel called as he walked towards the door.
Whitsel was talking about the upcoming draw for OHSAA playoff seeds, where he hopes to avoid having to contend with the Wildcats for a third time this season. After watching his team have to rally to knock off Patriot Athletic Conference Stars Division rival Keystone 3-2 no one would blame him for wanting to play someone else.
Behind the strong play of senior outside hitter Nikki Tuttle, and the early net dominance of junior middle hitter Jenna Quillen, the Wildcats swept the first two games 25-20 and 25-22.
Tuttle dominated play in the first two sets. She recorded 10 of her team-high 16 kills and had six of her match-high nine aces. Quillen had seven kills and both of the blocks she posted in the match.
“We were down 0-2 and had to go out and win three straight,” Whitsel said. “But I loved it. Keystone is much-improved from where they were when we saw them before. They really brought it on. We were not playing our best and they came out strong.”
In the third game the Wildcats looked to be in the driver’s seat again, winning three of the first four points. But the Cardinals (17-1, 13-0 PAC) eventually tied the game at eight and the rest of the night it was all Brookside. After outscoring Keystone 17-10 in the third game to claim a 25-18 win, the Cardinals jumped out to a 10-2 lead in Game 4 and rolled to a 25-16 victory.
In the final game, Brookside built an early lead and steadily built on it en route to a 15-9 win.
“Keystone came out ready to play and we weren’t ready,” Brookside senior middle hitter Shelby Kerstetter said. “I wouldn’t say we’ve had an easy schedule this year, but we’ve kind of breezed through it. But they were ready and we weren’t. They played really hard. We were able to regroup and come back. We took the momentum after that third game and went from there.”
Kerstetter ended up stuffing the stat sheet. She had a match-high 21 kills and three blocks. She also had 13 digs.
Junior outside hitter Morgan Brinkman and senior outside hitter Gabby Woods had big nights as well. Brinkman had 14 kills and a pair of blocks while Woods put down 14 kills and had a team-high five aces for Brookside.
Whitsel was pleased with what Brinkman brought to the table.
“It was a team effort. Shelby has had better nights than this, but by the end of the night she was putting away the ball,” he said. “In the first two games she wasn’t. We count on her for a lot of our offense, and when she wasn’t producing Morgan Brinkman on the outside started producing for us like crazy.”
When his team faced the 0-2 hole, Whitsel asked his team to be patient, to keep playing their game and let things unfold. It was a strategy that paid off as Keystone, who looked so dominant in the first two games, struggled to communicate on the court and started to make costly unforced mistakes.
“That’s our game. Unforced errors are going to kill you every time,” Whitsel said. “We look to limit our own while waiting for the other side to make some mistakes.
“Our idea is to attack you, keep you off balance and hopefully you will make some errors. There was a lot of teamwork there. The passing in the back row improved…they started talking to each other and figuring things out.”
Despite losing the match, Trego liked what he saw from his Wildcats.
“My girls played hard,” he said. “We never gave up and had them scared, I think. We’ve actually been playing well the past three weeks…started the season off 3-5 and have rattled off quite a few nice wins in a row here. Our only losses recently were to Clearview in five and tonight in five, so I can’t complain about the girls. They played with heart from start to finish.”
Everyone involved in the match also liked what the home crowd was able to add.
“Keystone had a great student section tonight and it’s going to be like that during the tournament,” Kerstetter said. “All the yelling, that’s going to help us in the playoffs because we haven’t faced a student section like that all year. It was great and I think we’re ready.”
Whitsel was caught up in the atmosphere as well.
“We haven’t seen this before. Keystone, I don’t know what they did…they must have brought everybody in the school,” he said. “We’ve played Keystone for years and it’s never been this loud. I couldn’t even talk on the court. It was a great atmosphere.”
Trego explained the boisterous student section.
“The whole football team was here, and that was nice to see,” he said. “When we went over there (to Brookside) they gave us a dose of that. It was pretty electric, so loud in here we couldn’t even communicate. I’m going to be hoarse for a week.”
Contact Mike Perry at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.