July 25, 2014

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High school volleyball: Brookside making big noise in the PAC

LAGRANGE — If you’re looking for Brookside volleyball coach Ted Whitsel to start planning a championship parade down Harris Road, you can think again. But with the way his Cardinals are playing right now, he’s not afraid to crack a quick smile.

Brookside's No. 31 Gabby Piwowar hits past Keystone's Sarah Hasel. (CT photo by Steve Manheim.)

Brookside's No. 31 Gabby Piwowar hits past Keystone's Sarah Hasel. (CT photo by Steve Manheim.)

Brookside, undefeated in its first five Patriot Athletic Conference matches, defeated Keystone 25-20, 25-20, 25-20 Tuesday. With the win, the Cardinals set up a showdown with Buckeye, the only other perfect team in the PAC, on Thursday night.

“We haven’t beaten Keystone, here at Keystone, in my years at Brookside,” said Whitsel after his team improved to 6-2 overall. “But tonight, I think you saw the confidence we were playing with.”

“I’m always nervous until we get the third game and the whistle is blowing and we’re shaking hands. But playing with that kind of confidence, that sure helps.”

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Brookside seemingly had control of the match right from the start as Kady Whitsel, the coach’s daughter and junior setter, along with fellow junior Shelby Kerstetter and seniors Gabby Piwowar and Jeanine Musall each took turns stepping up for the Cards.

Whitsel finished the night 36-of-36 setting with 18 assists, while adding 11 points, five aces and 22 digs. Piwowar and Musall tied for top hitting honors with 10 kills each, while Kerstetter controlled the net with four blocks.

“We came out and played hard,” Kady Whitsel said. “After a tough loss to Bay (in five games Saturday), we came back out tonight and put it behind us. We want to win the conference, and winning tonight was a big step for us.”

Brookside, which already owns a big win over highly touted Clearview in conference play, bounced back well from its disappointing non-conference loss to Bay in which the Cardinals owned a 2-0 advantage, only to see the Rockets take the final three games for the win.

“We definitely wanted to win tonight in three (games), because Keystone is a big rival for us,” Piwowar said. “We’re on a roll now, but each game is going to be a tough one as we move on. As long as we stay focused, I think we’ll be OK.”

Things may have been even worse for Keystone if not for the play of senior hitter Nikki Tuttle, who collected three kills down the stretch in each of the first two games, but that wasn’t enough as Kerstetter, junior Gabby Woods and sophomore Morgan Brinkman put the finishing touches on each game.

In the third, Wildcat junior Sarah Hasel served her team to a 15-all tie with an ace and two Brookside hits that went long, only to watch Woods, Musall, Kerstetter and Whitsel help the Cardinals regain control at the net and end the match.

“They’re a tough team, but we knew that coming in,” said Keystone coach Rachael Bailes after watching her team slip to 5-4, 4-1 in the PAC. “They keep their feet moving and that makes their defense almost unstoppable. … It came to the point where we just ran out of options.”

Tuttle finished the match with 12 kills to pace the Keystone attack, while senior Erin Pond collected 28 assists.

Despite his team’s solid showing, Coach Whitsel still knows it’s early in the season and was quick to deliver that message to his team.

“There’s still a lot of work to be done, and we’re not taking anything for granted,” he said. “If the girls feel they have anything signed, sealed and delivered, they’re mistaken. But we’re in a good place right now, and have to keep it up.”

Contact John McDermott at 329-7135 or ctsports@chroniclet.com.