October 25, 2020 at 2:29 p.m.

Hauser takes regional championship in nail-biting ending

By By Rob Deweese-

After two sets in the regional final Saturday night in Morristown, Hauser looked finished. Indianapolis Lutheran had thoroughly dominated the match.

The Jets could not find a way to stop the Saints, or specifically a way to even slow down Indianapolis Lutheran’s Dara Milvojac.

The senior outside hitter was dominant. She was pulverizing at the net. She was incredible from behind the service line. The Saints had so much confidence in her they even set her from the back line, where she also found success.

Meanwhile, the Jets played sloppy. Their passing was not crisp. Their hitting was inconsistent. They were having communication issues. So after losing the first two sets 25-16 and 25-19 it appeared that the regional title would go home with the Saints.

Ironically, Hauser’s two previous regional final matches were similar to this one, yet opposite. The Jets were the team that held the two games to none lead. However, it was Hauser who then lost the final three games each time, falling short of the title. In order for the Jets to avoid a third straight regional championship game loss, they would have to flip the script. They would have to be the team to claw back into the match and win three straight games.

And flip the script they did. In dramatic fashion, the Jets finally got over the hump. They found themselves just in time. They leaned on the experience they gained from the previous two losses. They found a way. And finally, at the end of the match, it was Hauser who was hoisting the regional championship trophy after a scintillating five set victory; 16-25, 19-25, 25-18, 25-16, 15-12.

According to Hauser coach Jeff Case, it was a change in mindset that changed the tone of the match in the third set. “After you get punched in the mouth like we did, what do you have to lose? I just told the girls to see if we could string some points together to see what happened.”

The calm demeanor and nothing to lose attitude of the Hauser coach rubbed off on his team. During the first two games, it seemed as if Indianapolis Lutheran could not make a mistake. Their service reception and passing were flawless. Their hitting was solid, and the Jets were on their heels. The majority of the damage for the Saints was done by Milivojac. Her teammates made a pointed effort to find her, and whether from the outside, middle, or back line, she delivered.

The Saints never trailed in the first set and put away Hauser with a late 8-3 run to take a 1-0 lead in the match. The second set was a carbon copy of the first. Indianapolis Lutheran jumped out quickly and never trailed. They led by as many as 12 points at 16-4 before the Jets started showing signs of life. And even though Hauser ended up losing the set to go down 2-0 in the match, they started to find themselves. In the loss, the Jets outscored the Saints 15-9 to finish the set, falling 25-19. But the fight Hauser showed to get back into the set carried over. The Jets came out for set three and looked like a different team.

After Indianapolis Lutheran scored the first point of the third set, Hauser managed to tie the score at one, which was the first tie of the entire match.

The Jets confidence and play continued to improve throughout the game. The set featured seven ties and five lead changes. The defensive scrambling and pressure started to frustrate the Saints into hitting errors that they were not committing earlier in the match. The Jets passing improved, which led to better hitting. Hannah Johnson was up to her old tricks behind the service line. With the scored tied at 16, she strung together three straight solid serves, including an ace to give the Jets a three point cushion at 19-16. From there, the Saints would get no closer than two points for the remainder of the set, and a Charlie Clark ace finished off a 25-18 victory to cut Indianapolis Lutheran’s lead to 2-1.

The Saints would not be deterred to begin the fourth set. They jumped out to an early 6-3 lead, following a familiar script that had been haunting the Jets the entire match. With the set tied at three, Johnson was taken off the floor due to the Jets rotation. Indianapolis Lutheran took advantage, scoring three straight points. It was a familiar scene at this point, as seemingly every time the Jets middle blocker was not on the floor, the Saints would go on a run.

“Hannah (Johnson) is an amazing player, so it makes a difference when she’s not on the floor for sure,” Case stated after the match.

But this time, Hauser found a way to stymie the run at three. A Clark kill, a Saints hitting error, and a tough serve by Jets’ senior Aunuka Wasil helped the Jets get the lead right back with a quick four point run of their own. By the time Johnson returned to the floor, Hauser had tied the set at nine. From there, the Jets slowly pulled away, continuing to gain confidence while the Saints played tighter. By the end of the fourth set, Hauser had scored 13 of the final 17 points en route to a 25-16 fourth set win, forcing a fifth and final set.

The last set was all Hauser. They jumped out to a 10-3 lead and looked as though they would run away with the victory. The Saints had one last push left, however. Again taking advantage of Johnson’s absence in the rotation, Indianapolis Lutheran outscored the Jets 6-1 to pull within two points at 11-9. Hauser was again able to answer the challenge, and held on for the 15-12 victory, giving them the 3-2 match win and that elusive regional title.

And with that, the script was officially flipped.