NAPPANEE – After four vacillating first sets between the top two volleyball teams in the Northern Lakes Conference, Warsaw faced a brutal scoring shortage in the deciding fifth set on Thursday night at NorthWood.

However, there was no lack of talking points thereafter – at least ultimately.

Tigers coach Chandra Hepler huddled in the locker room with his team for more than 45 minutes.

“I was a little at a loss for words there because it was really our game,” Hepler said of what she shared with her players. “We came here knowing we had to win this game, (so) we weren’t looking beyond this game.

“Our daughters were perfectly ready,” Hepler added. “I just think mentally we were kind of on a roller coaster tonight so we didn’t have a point guard to finish and execute. I think the main thing is that they did not believe in themselves.

The No.5-ranked Class 3A Panthers rallied to win 22-25, 25-22, 25-16, 18-25, 15-4.

NorthWood (26-2, 6-0) can cap a perfect NLC season with a win next Thursday at Wawasee (19-6, 1-5).

Warsaw (17-13, 5-1) can only equalize for the league title with a victory Thursday at Concord (15-8, 4-2) accompanied by Wawasee upsetting the Panthers.

In the last set against the Tigers – after lagging often in each of the first four sets – NorthWood racked up four of the first five points, nine of the first 11 and each of the last six.

“The fifth sets we’ve been in – or the third in tournaments – our players showed they just wanted to face you,” Panthers coach Hilary Laidig said. “They come out and serve really hard, and that’s huge.”

Laidig praised his young club, with only two seniors, for “the way they have been put together. We came back from a 9-2 (deficit) to win this third set. For younger children, this shows great leadership in older children. They earned it tonight. They weren’t careful. They went there. “

NorthWood have won 25 of 26 games since falling 3-0 in their first game of the season against top-class 4A Penn, and their two main attackers this season have been freshmen Sophia Barber and Claire Payne.

Payne recorded a team-high 16 kills against the Tigers to go with three blocks. Hairdresser and senior Alana Lehman added a dozen wins each, with Lehman mixing in five blocks.

For Warsaw, junior Kaylee Weeks scored 17 kills and runner-up Melaina Hawblitzel added 16. Senior Abby Sanner had five blocks, senior Abbie Porter served four aces and senior Kylie Smith scored 31 digs.

“We’ve had way too many mistakes,” Hepler said. “We had 10 aces, (but also) 10 serving errors. … Overall, we only hit 0.169, which is the lowest we’ve had in quite some time.

Hepler admitted that she found some of the umpires “inconsistent,” but added, “It’s okay, you have games where you have that. … The bottom line is that our girls didn’t perform when it was important. It was a clean slate for this fifth set, and our passage collapsed. We weren’t able to run our midfielders so every ball was on the outside, outside, outside and very predictable.

Even with the loss, the Tigers are 14-5 in their last 19 games, and all five losses have been a single set, including Thursday’s 3-2 to go with a quartet of scores of 2. -1 as an invitation.

“When we’re active, when we have momentum, I love our energy,” Hepler said. “When the girls believe in themselves they’re untouchable, but you could see us come out the first set so strong, then the second set, just go down, then the fourth set, be so high, so we hesitated. our mental strength.

Warsaw’s 13-game winning streak in NLC dating back to 2019 was interrupted with Thursday’s loss. The Tigers, in addition to being undefeated league champions a year ago, are 23-4 in the conference for the past four years.

NorthWood has improved to 19-1 over the past three years, with the only loss being last fall in Warsaw.

The Tigers won Thursday’s JV game 25-14, 24-25, 15-13.