by Beau Wicker
For the Pharos-Tribune
The last time Pioneer’s volleyball team reached the semistate, Kattie Lee was one of the Panthers’ top players.
Lee will be on the opposite sideline during Saturday’s Class A Caston Semistate showdown between No. 6-ranked Pioneer (25-9) and No. 10-ranked Frontier (29-2).
Lee, now a senior, moved with her family to the Frontier school district after her sophomore volleyball season.
“I trained her in the Pioneer system,” Pioneer coach Rod Nies said. “She has blossomed into quite a player.”
Lee and 6-foot-2 teammate Jenna Sullivan form a formidable 1-2 punch for the Falcons.
“My two left-sides, [Sarah] Dorris and [Gabby] Dunlap, are two of the best in Class A,” Nies said. “I think Kattie Lee is just as good or probably a little bit better. She’s a complete volleyball player. She’s very, very athletic. She digs anything you hit at her. She has great reaction time.”
Sullivan will likely play basketball in college, while Lee is getting looks to play volleyball at St. Francis and Goshen in Indiana and Kankakee Community College in Illinois.
“If she were 2, 3, 4 inches taller, you’d be looking at a small D-I player,” Nies said. “With the way she plays defense, she could maybe walk on D-I now at libero or DS. I know she wants to play all-around.”
Nies said with Sullivan and Lee on the front row, it’s a David vs. Goliath type of match against his smaller team. The Falcons won in four games last month in the regular season to snap Pioneer’s two-year run of winning Midwest Conference titles. The Panthers had won five of the last six league crowns.
But Pioneer is ranked higher than Frontier, and that’s due to strength of schedule according to Nies.
“The only Class A teams we played against in the regular season were other MWC teams,” he said.
“This is really about a draw. This is really a good matchup. ... It’s going to come down to ball control, and mental mistakes will be a big part, too.”
The Panthers’ lineup includes senior Dunlap and sophomore Dorris at outside hitter, senior Cassidy Corn and sophomore Hannah Tevis at middle hitter, senior Lindsey Miller at setter, junior Kayte Miller at libero and junior Riley Morris at defensive specialist/setter. Junior Brooke Harmon has recently returned from a concussion that sidelined her for over a month, and she helps as a server and can also fill in on the front row. Sophomore Lyndsey Stewart was recently called up from the JV and is a right-side hitter.
No. 5 Cowan (24-10) will be favored in its semifinal match against Michigan City Marquette (17-19) at 11 a.m. Saturday. Pioneer and Frontier follow. The final is set for 7 p.m.
“I look for Cowan to win in three straight [against Marquette],” Nies said. “Marquette is very young, probably 80 percent of their team are sophomores. I don’t think they have a senior.”
Cowan knocked off defending state champion Wes-Del in five games in sectional play.
“In the preseason the Muncie paper said Cowan would be really strong in Class A but would not be able to get past the strong duo of Sullivan and Lee from Frontier,” Nies said. “I’ve got that laminated inside our equipment room. That’s motivating for my girls. Both Cowan and Frontier are the heavy favorites.”