NORTH MANCHESTER – The Whitko High School volleyball team lost two important front-row players from a year ago, but all the returnees have the team looking to do big things in 2014.
“Our motto is to make history,” Whitko coach Brandy Smith said. “We did it last year, having our best season since 1998, so we’re ready to do it again.”
Whitko’s nine wins from 2013 were its best in 15 years, and the team is off to a 2-1 start this season after getting a four-game win at Manchester Thursday, 25-19, 21-25, 25-23, 25-16.
Smith lost Whitney Hobbs and Taylor Zwick from last season’s team, but senior Maddie Gawthrop appears ready to step up on the front line.
Showing glimpses as a junior, Gawthrop has been more consistent this year, and had a big match Thursday, recording 17 kills, 18 digs, four blocks and two aces.
“She’s really improved over her four years, and she’s done a good job of just being dominant on the court,” Smith said.
The entire senior class did well for Whitko, as Tressa Keim had 34 digs, 10 kills and three aces, Elaine Warner record 37 assists and Delaney Ray posted five kills.
“All four of the seniors, they’ve been our core group,” Smith said. “Three of the four have been starting since they were sophomores. I’m really excited to have them this year, and they’re doing a really good job of leading the team.”
While Whitko is hoping to build on last year’s success, Manchester is looking to build from the foundation up.
In their second season under Rebekah Brown, the Lady Squires sit at 2-4, which matches the win total from 2013.
“We had girls here all summer long that were working on stuff, improving,” Brown said. “Then, the people on the court right now also have that experience from last year. There’s a little bit more confidence.”
Playing right with Whitko in the opening game, Manchester actually held a 17-15 lead, but struggled down the stretch, as the Lady Wildcats used a 10-2 run to take the game 25-21.
In the second game, neither team took a decided advantage, as there were six ties before Manchester built a 19-13 lead, which it held on to.
Whitko outlasted the home team 25-23 in the third game, then things went straight downhill for the Lady Squires in the fourth, as they fell behind 9-2 and never recovered.
“We all agreed that we looked like last year’s team in Game 4,” Brown said. “But winning Game 2 is an improvement for us. Typically, we can come out playing well, but then we get down on ourselves and we can never finish.”
Sophomore Cierra Carter led Manchester with 10 kills and sophomore Rae Bedke recorded a team-high 24 assists.
Despite the loss, the improvement in the Lady Squires is evident, and actually took Smith by surprise.
“I didn’t expect as much out of Manchester as I saw,” the Whitko coach said. “They’ve picked it up a lot. We played them in scrimmage earlier in the year, and I didn’t see this team.”
Smith likely won’t be the only coach to underestimate Manchester, which Brown expects.
“I think (being underestimated) also helped us this weekend at (the Elwood) tournament,” Brown said, referring to her team’s 2-2 record at the invitational. “We came out strong against Danville, caught them completely off-guard and played well in Game 1. But they were a good team, and was able to step up in Game 2. We just don’t have that experience. Not experiencing a lot of winning, we aren’t mentally ready to know what it takes to step up to that next level against teams. But I think a lot of teams will underestimate us, and we’ll surprise them. But, we have to figure out how to finish games when we get ahead.”
The match was between a pair of Three Rivers Conference teams, but didn’t count as a conference match. Instead, the Sept. 11 match between the two in South Whitley will be the TRC match.
Both teams will be at invitationals Saturday, as Manchester hosts its own and Whitko travels to Westview.

WHITKO DEF. MANCHESTER 25-19, 21-25, 25-23, 25-16
Aces – Tressa Keim (W) 3, Rae Bedke (M) 3, Maddie Gawthrop (W) 2; Assists – Elaine Warner (W) 37, Bedke (M) 24; Blocks – Gawthrop (W) 4, Kendra Binkley (M) 1.5; Digs – Keim (W) 34, Haley Yohe (W) 22, Gawthrop (W) 18, Marret Metzger (M) 12, Ellie Milam (M) 10; Kills – Gawthrop (W) 17, Keim (W) 10, Cierra Carter (M) 10, Binkley (M) 6, Delaney Ray (W) 5, Kaity Reed (W) 5, Metzger (M) 5.
Records: Whitko 2-1, Manchester 2-4.
JV – Manchester def. Whitko 25-14, 25-19.
JV Stats: Aces – Kendra Auler (M) 2, Paige Wagoner (M) 2, Alyssa Spann (M) 2, Andrea Snavely (W) 2; Assists – Auler (M) 5, Wagoner (M) 5; Digs – Emma Casper (M) 2, Auler (M) 2, Wagoner (M) 2, Spann (M) 2; Kills – Leiah Brandenburg (M) 7, Whitney Marsh (W) 6, Spann (M) 2, Sydney Day (M) 2, Karly Eichenauer (M) 2.