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Grizzly Cubs appear primed for long tournament run

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Asked to pick the match among the first 15 that best exemplifies his team’s potential, Franklin Community High School volleyball coach Chris Due paused. Not for effect, either.

Due eventually selected the Grizzly Cubs’ 25-22, 25-19 decision over Class 4A No. 8 Columbus East at the Providence Invitational on Sept. 7.

A powerful statement on what was an impressive day.

In all, Franklin downed three ranked opponents on the Providence hardwood in a matter of hours, the others being Class 3A No. 4 Brownstown Central and the host Pioneers, the top-ranked squad in Class 2A.

That the Cubs themselves have yet to secure top 10 status in Class 4A might qualify as a mystery to some. Due not so much. The fourth-year coach’s reasoning being the largest class maintains a level playing field beyond the three highest-ranked programs — Carmel, Avon and New Castle.

Franklin has done everything it can do to garner notice, as evidenced by the 11-4 record and 3-0 Mid-State Conference mark it took into Tuesday night’s match at league rival Plainfield.

The Cubs are older, wiser and in some respects simply better than last season’s 26-9 finisher. They are a legitimate threat to bring home the program’s second sectional title in three years, and 10th overall.

“The primary goal has been to get better every year,” said Due, whose first squad in 2010 posted an 11-19 record and followed it up by going 21-12 the following season. “This year we have two seniors who have started since their freshman year, but we’ve also been very fortunate to add different pieces to the puzzle.”

Setter Katelyn Kelly and libero Tara Parmer have been lineup mainstays since that 2010 season. This senior duo, along with junior outside hitter Jess Admire, are tri-captains for the Cubs.

Alli Rice would have been a four-year starter, but the senior has been battling back issues and could return later in the season.

Franklin’s other three starters are senior middle hitter Caroline Gabehart and outside hitters Morgan Hash, a sophomore, and junior Kaylee Phillips.

Senior defensive specialist Karissa Wentzell and junior right-side hitter Lexi Hash are valued commodities off the bench, as are junior Caroline Rogers, sophomore Tana Smythe and freshman Abby Sewell.

Two of Franklin’s setbacks came at the hands of Perry Meridian. The others were to No. 2 Avon and sixth-ranked Cathedral, a pair of Class 4A powers.

Victory or defeat, favorite or underdog, the Cubs make it a point to keep their foot on the accelerator at all times.

“When we are down in a set or match, we get together and try our best to win. We did that in the past, too, but now we push harder,” said Kelly, who has notched a jaw-dropping total of 2,766 assists in her career. “I think it’s the fact we want to win for each other.

“Experience helps, but I think it’s mostly from heart.”

By hosting Indian Creek on Thursday, the Cubs start what is a string of five consecutive home matches, including the Sept. 24 showdown against county and conference rival Greenwood. The back end of the regular-season slate includes a trip to Martinsville on Oct. 8 and a rematch with Columbus East four days later at the latter’s invitational.

Every one of these includes its own challenges that the Grizzly Cubs are counting on to better prepare them for the postseason.

“I’ve been really pleased with the chemistry we have on the court. Another thing is this is by far the best ball-control team I’ve had,” Due said. “Mostly I think it’s just having another year of experience.”

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