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Trojans one step away from another state championship

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New Castle’s Nicole Wilkinson (14) scores a point at the net as Hamilton Southeastern’s Maddie Cole (34) and Abby Weber (10) can do little about it during their volleyball match Aug. 21 in the Fieldhouse. The No. 1 Trojans won that match 3-0 and they will face the No. 2 Royals Saturday at 5 p.m. in Ball State’s Worthen Arena for the Class 4A state championship.
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Kyla Berg (4) from visiting Hamilton Southeastern digs up a ball hit by host New Castle as Royals libero Carly Mills (2) watches during the two teams’ volleyball match Aug. 21 in the Fieldhouse. HSE has recorded a whopping 2,032 digs thus far this season, including 538 by Mills and 290 from Berg, and will get opportunities for more Saturday when the No. 1 Trojans play the No. 2 Royals for the Class 4A state championship Saturday at 5 p.m. in Ball State’s Worthen Arena.
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New Castle senior Melani Shaffmaster sends a serve over the net to visiting Hamilton Southeastern during the two teams’ volleyball match Aug. 21 in the Fieldhouse. Shaffmaster is No. 2 in the state in hitting percentage at .559, has 901 assists, and wants to win a third straight state championship when the No. 1 Trojans battle the No. 2 Royals for the Class 4A state title Saturday at 5 p.m. in Ball State’s Worthen Arena.
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New Castle’s Mabrey Shaffmaster (9) attempts to pound a kill past the defense of Hamilton Southeastern’s Delaney Garner (6) and another HSE player as the Trojans’ (from the left) Melani Shaffmaster, Bailey Cox, Addie Bunner, and Nicole Wilkinson plus the Royals’ Abby Weber (10) watch during their volleyball match Aug. 21 in New Castle Fieldhouse. The two teams meet again Saturday at 5 p.m. in Ball State’s Worthen Arena for the Class 4A state championship.
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New Castle’s Addie Bunner (6-left) and Laila Smith (8) rise for a block against a kill attempt by Hamilton Southeastern’s Delaney Garner (6-right) during their volleyball match Aug. 21 in the Fieldhouse. The No. 1 Trojans will tangle with the No. 2 Royals Saturday at 5 p.m. in Ball State’s Worthen Arena for the Class 4A state championship.

By DAVID RISLEY - drisley@thecouriertimes.com

The Class 4A No. 1 New Castle High School volleyball team is one step away from a third consecutive state championship – so close the girls on the team probably can taste it.

But in order to reach that objective, the Trojans will have to defeat now No. 2 Hamilton Southeastern in Saturday’s Class 4A state championship match at 5 p.m. at Ball State’s Worthen Arena in Muncie.

This is a venue in which New Castle is very familiar, and apparently very comfortable, as the Trojans won back-to-back state championships in Class 3A here, sweeping past Brebeuf Jesuit in 2017 and Northview in 2018 to win the state titles.

But winning a state championship in Class 4A is a different kettle of fish entirely. New Castle is playing up a class this season because of the IHSAA’s tournament success factor, and is having to contend with teams from schools with sometimes much larger enrollments.

This hasn’t seemed to bother the Trojans much thus far in this year’s tournament, as (obviously) they have won every match in it and have an 18-2 record in sets played.

New Castle also has the knowledge that it can defeat Hamilton Southeastern, as the Trojans swept past the Royals 3-0 back on Aug. 21 in the Fieldhouse for one of HSE’s four losses this season.

But that was then and this is now. Previous results mean nothing at this stage, and both teams need to come prepared for a battle. As the winner of the southern semi-state, New Castle will be the home team Saturday, but that, too, means nothing at a neutral site.

Hamilton Southeastern comes into Saturday’s state finals with a 29-4 record and on a 16-match winning streak. The Royals are 82-16 in sets played during those matches.

Other than the match against New Castle, HSE’s other losses were to Providence 3-1 Aug. 31 at the North/South Invitational, at home to Yorktown 3-0 on Sept. 10, and to Heritage Christian 2-0 in the Warren Central Tournament Sept. 21.

The Royals won the Hoosier Crossroads Conference with a perfect 7-0 record and were 21-3 in sets played in the HCC.

All of those losses by the Royals were “quality” losses to really good teams. In fact, Heritage Christian is playing for the Class 2A state championship against Wapahani Saturday at 1 p.m. at Worthen Arena.

HSE has recorded 1,296 kills thus far this season, and four girls have more than 100 each. Junior Delaney Garner leads the way with 361, followed closely by senior Abby Weber with 350, senior Grace Hunter 257,and senior Maddie Cole 124.

The Royals have recorded 193 service aces. Weber leads in that category with 49, followed by junior Carly Mills 34, junior Taylor Lauri 23, junior Jordan Engelmann 22, and senior Kyla Berg 21. HSE’s blocking patrol is led by Garner with 112, followed by Cole with 70, junior Olivia Phillips 54, and sophomore Emily Weber 43.

The Royals have a whopping 2,032 digs this season and five players have 239 or more. Mills leads in that category with 538, followed by Abby Weber 321, Berg and senior Lillian Leiner 290 apiece, and Hunter 239. Of HSE’s 1,019 assists, Phillips has 517 and Emily Weber 466.

Hamilton Southeastern is not unfamiliar to winning state championships in girls sports, as its girls basketball team won the Class 4A state title last season and is an early favorite to repeat this season led by Indiana Miss Basketball candidate Sydney Parrish.

Readers already know much about New Castle, who enters the state championship match with a 34-1 record, on a 26-match winning streak, and the Trojans are 92-6 in sets played this season. Ironically, no New Castle girl has played in all 98 sets.

The Trojans have not lost a match to any schools in Indiana thus far this season, as their lone setback was to Louisville (Ky.) Assumption 2-0 in the Avon Invitational back on Sept. 7. New Castle lost that first set in “overtime” 24-26 before being dominated by Assumption in the second set. 

Center Grove (three over a trio of different matches) and Yorktown (one) were the only other teams to win sets against the Trojans this season.

New Castle won the Hoosier Heritage Conference with a perfect 7-0 record and didn’t lose a set in the process.

New Castle has no weak areas in its game. The Trojans have recorded 1,438 kills thus far this season, led by 650 from junior Mabrey Shaffmaster, 320 by junior Laila Smith, 267 from senior Melani Shaffmaster, and 105 by junior Nicole Wilkinson.

Mabrey Shaffmaster is No. 2 in the state in the number of kills. She needs just 17 to tie Parke Heritage’s Atlantis Clendenin for the state lead in kills, and 18 to be the sole leader.

New Castle has produced 306 service aces this season, led by 119 from Mabrey Shaffmaster followed by 54 by senior Zoe Conway, 51 from Melani Shaffmaster, 33 by junior Bailey Cox, and 27 from sophomore Addie Bunner.

Mabrey Shaffmaster is No. 3 in the state in aces, and needs only one more to tie for the No. 2 spot and two more to take over sole possession of second place in the category.

The Trojans don’t seem to have the high numbers in blocks that some teams do, but they have been very effective when implementing them. Smith leads the team in blocks with 52, followed by 46 from Melani Shaffmaster, 39 by Mabrey Shaffmaster, and 31 from Wilkinson.

New Castle has recorded 1,134 digs thus far this season. Cox leads the way with 265, followed by Melani Shaffmaster 255, Conway 218, Mabrey Shaffmaster 214, and Bunner 114. Melani Shaffmaster has 901 of the Trojans’ 1,091 assists, followed by junior Eliza Madden 58, Cox 56, and Conway 52.

Also noteworthy is Melani Shaffmaster’s No. 2 ranking in state hitting percentage at .559.

The cost of admission for Saturday’s state finals is $12 per person with children 5 and under admitted free of charge. All four volleyball state finals matches will be televised live on Fox Sports Indiana (Comcast channel 53).

Prediction: Most signs point to a third straight state championship for New Castle. The Trojans already own a three-set sweep over HSE this season and any confidence that goes with it. New Castle also has played at this level three straight years and knows what to expect. Nerves should not be a problem for the Trojans.

But sometimes, New Castle is its own worst enemy, making serving and other unforced errors that give points to its opponents. The classic example is the first set against Center Grove in last Saturday’s semi-state. The Royals have shown during their 16-match winning streak that they are capable of scoring points without help from opponents.

It should be a dandy with New Castle generating a “three-peat” and winning its first Class 4A state title since 2007. Start manufacturing those “three-peat” T-shirts.