Southwestern coach Chris Johnson (above) talks strategy with his players in a timeout during Saturday’s sectional championship game in Versailles. Senior outside hitter Lexi Means (below left) and junior outside hitter Karli Long (below right) were a key part of that strategy in the title game win over South Ripley as Means finished with 20 kills, 30 digs and an ace while Long had 20 kills, 17 digs and two aces. The Rebels won their first sectional title and will now play Class 2A No. 2 Providence tonight in Clarksville. (Staff photos by David Campbell)
Southwestern coach Chris Johnson (above) talks strategy with his players in a timeout during Saturday’s sectional championship game in Versailles. Senior outside hitter Lexi Means (below left) and junior outside hitter Karli Long (below right) were a key part of that strategy in the title game win over South Ripley as Means finished with 20 kills, 30 digs and an ace while Long had 20 kills, 17 digs and two aces. The Rebels won their first sectional title and will now play Class 2A No. 2 Providence tonight in Clarksville. (Staff photos by David Campbell)
In terms of history, there couldn't be two more polar opposites squaring off when Southwestern faces Providence in the Class 2A Volleyball Regional in Clarksville tonight.

Providence, a perennial power and the current second-ranked team in the state, won its 27th sectional title on Saturday with a straight-sets demolition of Eastern (Pekin).

The Pioneers have also won eight regional titles and will be gunning for their second-straight when they take the court tonight.

Southwestern, on the other hand, finally got over the hump and won its first sectional championship in four games over South Ripley. The No. 13 Rebels have had great teams in the past but this will be their first trip to the regional round.

All of that history will mean little when the first serve is hit over the net, but it gives a nice flavoring to the one-match regional to be played on Providence's home floor.

"They're a great team and they have been either one or two all year," Southwestern coach Chris Johnson said. "You know they'll be ready to play."

While Providence (32-4) has always had strong teams, this year's squad has been somewhat surprising in the amount of success it has had. That's not because of a lack of talent - the Pioneers have that by the bucketful - but because the team is led by a group of sophomores.

Sophomores Taylor Wilson, Haley Libs and Patricia Mattingly lead a squad that has just one senior on its roster. Wilson had eight kills and two service aces in the win over Eastern and Libs had 11 kills, five digs and two aces in that match.

The lack of experience hasn't bothered the Pioneers one bit. They have run through a schedule with just four losses in 36 matches and most of their wins have come in straight sets.

One of those wins was against Southwestern on Sept. 20. The Rebels traveled to then-No. 1 Providence and came away with a 25-15, 25-13, 25-11 loss. The Pioneers dominated at the net in that match with Wilson collecting 24 kills, Mattingly dishing out 32 assists and Audrey Shannon picking up 11 kills and 11 service points.

If there is a bright spot to that loss it's the fact that Southwestern has gotten a chance to see the Pioneers up close and the Rebels will not be surprised by what Providence has to offer.

"Providence is a good team. They're a really clean-playing team. They don't make many mistakes," said senior captain Lexi Means, who had 10 kills and four digs in that earlier match. "We'll have to stay with them and not make as many mistakes as we're used to."

While Southwestern has not played the powerhouse schedule Providence has, the Rebels have faced their share of strong teams. Along with the Pioneers, Southwestern also played Trinity Lutheran, ranked fourth in the final Class A poll, as well as strong 3A teams Madison and Lawrenceburg.

Johnson said the previous experience of facing Providence, along with the others, can do nothing but help his team.

"We've seen them, I've got film on them so we know what to expect," Johnson said. "Providence is a good enough team that it's a situation where you're not going to defend everything that they're going to do. The bottom line is that our offense is going to have to be kicking and we're going to have to stay with them."

Johnson noted that the last time his team faced Providence the Rebels responded with one of their worst defensive matches of the season. The key to success in tonight's matchup will be to lessen mistakes and take advantage of the opportunities that come along.

"With every good team we've faced my speech to them has been the same: just hang with them," Johnson said. "We're not going out there to try to build a 10-point lead. We're hanging with them and then if we get to the end of a set and we're within one or two points, then we push, then we try to finish it off. That's going to be our strategy. Defend what we can, get our hands up on what we can and just attack them. That's what we're going to try to do."

The winner advances to the semistate at Forest Park on Saturday and will play either Eastern Hancock or Heritage Christian in the semifinals. The semistate championship will be later that night.

The state championship is set for Saturday, Nov. 3 at Ball State University in Muncie.