Heading into the season, first-year Center Grove volleyball coach Maggie Harbison said that her expectation was a state championship.

On Tuesday evening, the Trojans had an opportunity to prove that, despite a 1-2 start, those expectations weren’t out of line.

Center Grove didn’t win at No. 1-ranked Cathedral — but in giving the Fighting Irish all they could handle in a 22-25, 27-25, 25-16, 25-23 loss, Harbison’s squad showed that it’s capable of holding its own against anyone in Indiana.

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“I’m impressed with our girls,” Harbison said. “It’s a process, and that’s what I told them. But we’ll get there.”

Cathedral (4-0) took the lead for good in the decisive fourth game on a kill by Emily Cleck, the beginning of a 5-0 surge that put Center Grove in a 23-18 hole. Facing match point at 24-19, the Trojans battled back with four straight, including three kills by senior Macy Carrabine, but could not get over the hump.

The Trojans had seized the momentum early the night by claiming an opening set that featured several momentum swings. Down by as many as four, the visitors used a 5-1 run, keyed by a couple of Emma Jones kills, to take a 23-19 lead. Carrabine then snuffed out a Cathedral rally with a kill for the final point.

Neither team was willing to give an inch in Game 2, which featured 17 ties — the last at 25-25. The Fighting Irish were finally able to put it away two points later on a kill by Nia Robinson.

Cathedral reeled off seven straight points, the biggest run by either side all night, to take control of Game 3 for good with a 13-7 lead. The Trojans couldn’t get any closer than four the rest of the way.

In danger of seeing the match slip away quickly, though, Center Grove fought back. Game 4 included 12 ties and seven lead changes — just one too few for the Trojans.

“We won the first game and didn’t show up for the last three,” junior Ellen LeMasters said. “We tried to come back in the fourth game, but it was just too late. But we can definitely — if we see them again, I think we can definitely handle them.”

Harbison sees plenty of potential, and she’s hopeful that her young team — Carrabine is the lone senior — can harness it at some point.

“I think the biggest thing is we need to realize how well we can play when we’re all focused together,” the coach stated. “We can be really good, but we can be our own worst enemy.”

Tuesday night, Center Grove showed too much of the latter to win but enough of the former to prove it’ll be a force to be reckoned with before the season is through.

Ryan O'Leary is sports editor for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at roleary@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2715.