LAFAYETTE — Not many predicted the McCutcheon Mavericks to be there.
Saturday afternoon, there they were.
A seven-loss team loaded with youth coming off its best performance of the season was among the final four teams in the state tournament.
Lafayette Jeff’s Crawley Center housed a relocated Class 4A north volleyball semistate, putting the Mavericks just a few miles from their home gym.
But the day belonged to the Munster Mustangs, who advanced to their first state championship match behind outside hitters Lourdes Torres and Haley Melby and libero Sarah Morton leading a 25-20, 25-20, 25-21 sweep over McCutcheon.
“Munster was a great team and they had our number, but overall I am just really proud of this team,” said McCutcheon sophomore outside hitter Chloe Chicoine. “We were just a little bit off, but even if we were having one of our best days, Munster is still a great team and it would have been a battle.”
Still, it didn’t diminish what McCutcheon accomplished.
Last year was supposed to be the Mavericks’ season, but they lost the regional championship match to eventual Class 4A runner-up Hamilton Southeastern.
A loaded senior class departed and a talented freshman group came in.
Seniors on this year’s team had to accept new or diminished roles. Freshmen and sophomores were the focal point.
“It’s tough, but at practice we work and we make them better because we are a team,” senior Ryley Brown said. “We stopped being individuals. We had to work together as a team to get to this point.”
Somehow, it all worked, even with a few unfortunate obstacles.
The Mavericks endured a midseason quarantine.
They returned from it looking anything but a team that would eventually eliminate the top-ranked team in Indiana, which McCutcheon did one week ago against Hamilton Southeastern in the regional championship.
“During quarantine, we were so negative and down on ourselves,” Brown said. “We thought we were so far behind. We knew we had to outwork every other team if we wanted to make it to the top, which we didn’t quite do but we still worked really hard.”
Then, Saturday, in the biggest McCutcheon volleyball match in more than three decades, the Mavericks had moments where they showed their youth.
But they also had moments where they showed their potential.
The mistakes were too pivotal against a powerful Munster squad.
“Did they outplay us? Yes, but we also outplayed ourselves,” McCutcheon coach Sara Sutter said. “That comes along with a young team. But this group has been so strong and the seniors were such great leaders that they have prepared these girls to take the next step next year.”
Freshman Bella Humphrey pummeled 11 kills and Chicoine led the Mavericks with 13.
Munster, with a roster that included just one sophomore partnered with veteran upperclassmen, showed poise in the most pressure-packed situations.
The Mustangs closed the first set on a 4-1 run, were unfazed by McCutcheon’s strong start in the second set to close that game on a 6-1 run, then held off a Maverick rally in the third after jumping out to a 17-10 lead.
McCutcheon had its goal set at playing in Muncie next weekend against an undefeated Yorktown team for the state championship.
It didn’t work out.
But along the way, the Mavericks won their first regional title since 1989, also the last time McCutcheon played in the state championship match.
That’s where the bar is now for this program.
“We raised (expectations),” Chicoine said. “We wish we could have won it all, but I think next year we will come back hungrier to go farther.”
Sam King covers high school sports for the Journal & Courier. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter and Instagram @samueltking.