Southwood tops Tecumseh for its first state championship
MUNCIE -- Southwood volleyball coach Tom Finicle freely admits he’s been around a long time (35 years, to be exact) and thanks to a team who -- like their coach -- made a habit of sticking around, he’s finally walked off the court with a first-place medal around his neck.
After seeing top-ranked Tecumseh blast out to a 25-15 victory in set one of the Class 1A state championship match, Finicle’s fourth-ranked Knights gathered themselves and rallied to a 3-1 (15-25, 25-19, 25-23, 25-19) triumph.
The title is not only the first for Finicle in his long career, but also the first girls state championship for Southwood High School in any sport.
“I guess the (second place) medals weigh the same as this one,” said Finicle, referring to runner-up finishes in 2009 and 2014, “but this one has a lot more significance. I’m so happy for our kids and our school.”
Early on, it appeared another runner-up medal was again in the cards for the Knights (32-4). The Braves came out hot, hitting .267 as a team in set one, scored the first four points of the match and never trailed. The Braves (32-5) were playing in their second-consecutive state final, after falling to Fort Wayne Blackhawk in 2022 and returned five starters from that team.
“We kept our errors to a minimum in that first set,” Tecumseh coach Katie Johnson said.
From there, the rest of the match was a different story.
Tecumseh led set two, 7-3, and it was as if Southwood simply snapped to it.
“Tecumseh started fast and strong, and we figured they would,” Finicle said. “But, we weathered the storm and played great volleyball after that.”
Southwood caught the Braves at 7-7, took a 9-8 lead on junior Grace Drake’s service ace and rolled to the six-point win that evened the match.
The Knights took firm control of set three by breaking out to advantages of 7-3 and 12-8, only to see Tecumseh fight back for a 13-13 tie. With the set tied at 23-23, Southwood won the set on consecutive errors – the last being after a Drake block.
“We gave them so many points in the second and third sets,” Johnson lamented. “When you make errors against a good team, those are points we needed. We literally gave those two sets to them.”
The Braves took a 3-0 lead to start set four, only to see the Knights run off seven straight points. Tecumseh then rallied for a 7-7 tie, but the Knights again rolled off the next seven points for a 13-7 lead and never trailed again.
Southwood closed out the match on a Carley Whitesel kill.
“We just talked about sticking around and not going away,” Finicle said. “I felt if we could be relaxed enough to play our game, we would get it done.”
Freshman Shania Rhamy led the winners with 13 kills, while Drake added 10 and Hali Pershing, also a freshman, had eight kills and two aces.
Jenna Donohoo led Tecumseh with a match-best 15 kills and Ava Kissel finished with 13. Payge Johnson had a fine all-around match with 11 kills, 21 assists and 13 digs.
Tecumseh’s Payge Johnson receives Mental Attitude Award
Following the match, Payge Johnson of Tecumseh High School was announced as the recipient of the Mental Attitude Award by the IHSAA Executive Committee.
Payge is a member of the National Honor Society and is also a member of the Fellowship of Christian athletes at Tecumseh High School, while maintaining a 4.0 GPA, ranking first in her senior class.
She is an exceptional multi-sport athlete, participating in volleyball and softball for the Braves during her high school career. This is her fourth appearance in a state championship contest as a member of Tecumseh’s softball state championship teams the last two years and last year’s volleyball state runner-up team.
She is the daughter of Marcus and head coach Katie Johnson of Elberfeld, IN and plans to pursue studies in Radiology at the University of Southern Indiana. Payge joins former Tecumseh teammate Brianna Marx who was last year’s recipient of this award.
The Mental Attitude Award is annually presented to a senior 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 Tecumseh High School’s general scholarship fund in the name of Payge Johnson.