Muncie Burris returns to the Class 2A mountaintop
MUNCIE – Thirteen years was long enough for the state’s best.
With a state-record 22 volleyball state championships already amassed in the program’s history, the top-ranked Class 2A Muncie Burris Owls added No. 23 on Saturday night to cap their 2023 season and the 2A state finals.
The Owls (31-4) finished the Indiana High School Athletic Association volleyball state tournament inside Ball State University’s Worthen Arena just as they began their campaign nearly three months ago – in straight sets.
Muncie Burris swept past Brownstown Central 3-0 (25-23, 25-16, 25-17), marking its seventh straight victory without surrendering a set and its 22nd consecutive win in a state finals match since 1985.
The Owls improved to 23-1 overall in state championship match appearances and captured their first title since 2010. Under the guidance of former head coach Steve Shondell, the program won 21 state titles between 1982-2009. Muncie Burris won a state-record 14 consecutive 2A titles from 1997-2010 and 95 straight state tournament matches during their era of dominance.
For the eighth time in state finals history, the Owls and Brownstown Central Braves (24-14) met to decide the title. Once more, the Owls prevailed.
“It’s been 13 years. We needed another banner up there. It’s been too long,” Owls’ junior Lilly Howell said. “We have six seniors, and all of them are my best friends. I love them all so much, so it feels amazing to give this to them.”
The Owls’ eighth win over the Braves in state finals matches history was powered by offensive efficiency, net defense and the perfect blend of upperclassmen leaders and up-and-coming talent.
“When Steve (Shondell) was here, winning state was just kind of an automatic thing, but it’s like any dynasty in every sport. Things change,” fourth year Burris coach Jim Craig said. “I think more than anything, this particular group, we had some seniors. We had some young kids that kind of gravitated toward the seniors and vice versa.”
The Owls flocked together against the Braves, surviving a tug-of-war first set that was highlighted by three ties before Muncie Burris secured a two-point victory and the momentum.
“We knew if we lost that first set, then it was going to be a lot harder to come back, but once we won that, it was so much easier throughout the rest of it. There was so much energy that we just kept building off of that,” Howell said.
Senior Aubrey Miller secured the final point in the first set, 25-23, with an ace. Sophomore Mya Trammell followed suit in the second set, hammering home a match-point ace to close it, 25-16.
Brownstown Central tied the Owls twice in the second set after they held a momentary 1-0 lead but Muncie Burris’ height and defense began dictating the game.
Howell, who stands 6-foot-2, finished the state finals with 13 kills, three aces and three block assists. Freshman Ja’Maria Jackson, who is 5-10, chipped in two block assists, and Trammell had 12 kills, an ace and eight digs.
Miller had a match-high 16 kills, contributed seven digs and a block assist. Senior Layla Gonzales logged a match-high 15 digs.
“Blocking plays such a really big role on the team. It makes it harder to pass, and the passes don’t really know where to go,” Howell said.
“Lilly is a generational player,” Craig added. “Ja’Maria just turned 14 a month ago, and she only started playing two months ago. This is a new thing for her, but she’s so athletic. A lot of times, I’ve told her, ‘Just be a presence out there. You don’t have to be 20 kills. Just be a presence.’”
The Owls’ overwhelmed the Braves with a .302 attack percentage, recording 44 kills with 12 errors. Brownstown Central’s Addison Darlage led the Braves with 10 kills. Sophie Wischmeier had nine and three aces.
In the third and decisive set, the Owls led by as many as nine points behind consistent attacks by Trammell, Miller and Howell.
“Both Aubrey and Mya, the outsides, they developed a no-fear attitude a long time ago. They very seldom get blocked because they know what to look for and they know where to hit it,” Craig said. “They’ve been there before where we’ve been five points ahead, then get behind. They almost look at me like, ‘We’re O.K. Just sit down.’”
Craig didn’t take a seat until after his Owls hoisted the trophy and headed to the locker room. Craig coached 18 years at Wapahani between 1977-1994 before assisting at Burris in 2019 and taking over as head coach in 2020.
In his career, Craig has won 14 sectional, seven regional and now one state title. His career record is 570-147.
“I’ve been doing this for a long time. I started at Wapahani and coached out there for around 20 years. Always would run into Burris, so we never could get very far,” Craig said. “Came back four years ago with this, and it really didn’t hit me until I had to say something before we took the court, and I couldn’t do it. It overwhelmed me that, man, I have my shot.”
Now, Craig and the Owls have another banner – No. 23 in 2023.
“It’s amazing. I’m so proud of my girls. It’s not anything individual. We all put it out there on the court,” Miller said. “There’s been a lot of determination, a lot of rebuilding and just a lot of grit in taking what we have lost and have gained and putting it into something on the court.”
Burris’ Aubrey Miller earns Mental Attitude Award
Following the match, Aubrey Miller of Muncie Burris Laboratory School was announced as the recipient of the Mental Attitude Award by the IHSAA Executive Committee.
Aubrey is a member of the Burris’ National Honor Society and its Volunteer Club, while maintaining a 3.96 GPA.
She is an exceptional athlete, participating in volleyball all four years at Muncie Burris and helped lead her team back to the state finals for the first time since 2010. Aubrey also received the IHSVCA Academic All-State Gold Award (3.75 GPA or higher) from the state coaches association.
She is the daughter of Alainna and Travis Peconge of Muncie, IN and is interested in studying Sports Management or Sports Medicine but is currently undecided on where she plans to attend college.
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 Muncie Burris’ general scholarship fund in the name of Aubrey Miller.