Hamilton Southeastern completes perfect season, repeats as 4A state champs
MUNCIE – The top-ranked Hamilton Southeastern Royals refused to be denied their place in history Saturday night.
One victory away from becoming only the fourth team in Class 4A volleyball state tournament history to capture an Indiana High School Athletic Association state championship with a perfect record, the Royals cemented their legacy inside Ball State University’s Worthen Arena.
The Royals won the first set, 25-18, dropped the second, 26-24, and then rallied back to win the next two, 25-20, 25-15, to defeat fifth-ranked Castle 3-1 and finish a flawless 33-0.
The win marked HSE’s 67th straight dating back to its season-opening loss against McCutcheon in 2022-23 and polished off their repeat journey after seizing the program’s first IHSAA 4A state title in 2022.
“I feel like it was kind of expected for us the whole year, which brought a lot of pressure, but for us to get it done it’s a big relief and an even bigger accomplishment for us. I’m just so proud of everyone,” HSE senior libero Sophie Ledbetter said.
The Royals’ state-championship quest seemed inevitable with a star-studded lineup that only lost one senior to graduation over the course of one season and returned six starters from its 34-1 run in 2022.
HSE proved difficult to beat with a roster that read like a who’s who list of college commits, including Ledbetter (Ball State), senior setter Macy Hinshaw (Santa Clara), senior middle Tiffany Snook (Memphis), senior middle Breonna Goss (Duke), senior outside hitter Lauren Harden (Florida), junior outside hitter Lindsey Mangelson (Mississippi State), junior setter Ava Hunter (Loyola-Chicago) and junior defensive specialist Kaylyn Christy (Hanover).
However, Castle (34-4) achieved what only three other teams could this season – stealing one of five total sets surrendered by the two-time defending state champions.
The Royals led the second set 24-21 with game-point following back-to-back kills by Goss, but the Knights charged back with five unanswered points, which conjured some momentarily doubt on the HSE sideline.
“That second set that was a turning point. I look at last year when we played Yorktown (for state) that third-set comeback (25-23) was our turning point (to win 3-1), and that was in the back of my mind when Castle tied it at one apiece,” HSE head coach Jason Young said. “We better slam the door, and they were ready, and our schedule as demanding as it is, it was kind of been there done that. I’m incredibly proud.”
The Royals recovered quickly from the late-game setback, and after battling through three ties in the third, a 5-1 run turned the momentum back in their favor with a 2-1 lead.
“It motivated us a lot to not relax because we know that we shouldn’t have lost that second set, especially with being up. We just had to finish the next two sets out,” Goss said.
The Royals hit their mark with unselfish consistency across the board.
Four players recorded 13 or more kills in the four-set match led by Mangelson’s 17. Snook had 14 and Goss added 13. Harden hammered down 13.
Hinshaw provided the offense with 38 assists, followed by Hunter with 20, and the Royals defense was driven by Ledbetter’s 17 digs, which moved past the 1,000-career milestone. Hinshaw had 16 digs, while both sophomore Maye McConnell and Harden each had 11 digs.
“We have so many great players on this team, and we differentiate our offense so much. I feel like some people wouldn’t like it because the stats don’t show, but I wouldn’t trade this team for the world,” Harden said. “This team is one of the best. I will say that. I’m confident enough to say that just with the group of girls that we have.”
They’ve been prolific in recent years, making their third state finals appearance in five years, placing runner-up in 2019 and winning it all the past two seasons.
“This team just knew how to have fun, and we knew to be a successful team you just had to play as a family and play together,” Harden said.
“That was a big goal for us, and something that came pretty easy for us at the end of the day because we’ve played with each other for so long. The big thing for us was to have fun and play for each other.”
The Royals relied on one another to win the fourth set just like the first – wire-to-wire.
Castle tied the fourth at 1-all but despite steady attacks by senior standout Katie Kopshever, who had a team-best 16 kills, there was little the Knights could do to derail the unbeatable Royals.
“Relying on each to pick each other up if there was a mistake made, obviously, was important. You’re going to be hard on yourself, but it’s something you try not to do, even though it’s going to happen,” Harden said. “That helped relieve a lot of the pressure, and especially because this is the second time we’ve done this in a row.”
Their comfort in the spotlight equated to a sideout percent at 75 in both the first and fourth sets. The Royals compiled 72 kills compared to Castle’s 41, and they overcame 25 errors while forcing 17.
“We helped change the program. This is going to go down in history and in the history books at HSE. It was really amazing to be a part of and I’m glad we all were able to get together as a team because this group is really special,” Harden said.
It’s one that coach Young won’t forget soon.
“Being the fourth team to be able to do that in 4A history is awfully special. This is a special group. A group that pretty much returned the entire team, and they made it a mission this year to kind of go out the right way,” Young said. “This group of seniors is a magical group, and I’m just proud of them. I’m proud of what they’ve done for the program and how they’ve left it.”
Castle’s Gretchen Hurt presented Mental Attitude Award
Following the match, Gretchen Hurt of Castle High School was announced as the recipient of the Mental Attitude Award by the IHSAA Executive Committee.
Gretchen was elected by her peers as senior class president and is also a member of the National Honor Society and Student Athletic Council while maintaining a 3.87 GPA.
She is a multi-sport athlete, participating in volleyball, basketball and track and has qualified for the state finals in the shot put the last two years.
Castle High School Principal Jim Hood says, “She is an unbelievably selfless person who would do anything for anyone in a time of need. This is evident by her commitment to enlist into either the United States Air Force Academy or the United States Naval Academy upon completion of high school. Instead of spending the summer training with her team, Gretchen attended the Air Force and Navy summer intensive seminars.”
She is the daughter of Doug Hurt of Newburgh, IN and the late Krista Hurt who passed away in September 2012. Krista’s mother and aunt also played volleyball for the Knights while her grandmother helped start the program and coached the team for many years.
The Mental Attitude Award is annually presented to a senior, who is nominated by her principal and coach, and has demonstrated excellence in mental attitude, scholarship, leadership and athletic ability during her four years of high school.
Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance, a corporate partner of the IHSAA, presented a $1,000 scholarship to Castle High School’s general scholarship fund in the name of Gretchen Hurt.