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No. 1 Monroe St. Mary CC wins eighth regional title in nine seasons, stopping No. 10 Charyl Stockwell's historic run in D3 regional title match

No. 1 Monroe St. Mary CC wins eighth regional title in nine seasons, stopping No. 10 Charyl Stockwell's historic run in D3 regional title match
BY: MATTHEW B. MOWERY Nov 8, 10:50pm

WHITMORE LAKE — As the saying goes, if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best.

For as much progress as the Charyl Stockwell program has made since joining the MHSAA four seasons ago, and as much history as they made this year — with first-ever league and district titles — the No. 10-ranked Sentinels are not quite there yet.

Still, they proved how close they might be by giving No. 1-ranked Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central a match in Thursday night’s Division 3 regional final, falling 25-15, 25-17, 25-20.

They proved they belonged.

“Props to them. We expected a great match, and we got one,” said CSPA coach Paula Gallentine said of the Kestrels. “But I think we earned a little respect in the process, as well, that we were in the right place tonight, at regionals.”

SMCC advances to Tuesday’s quarterfinals at Ann Arbor Huron, where it will face No. 5-ranked Manchester, a 25-13, 25-12, 25-10 winner over Bath in the regional at Springport.

“We just played well as a unit, whatever six were out there. We play 11 girls out of the 12, and whatever six were out there, we just gelled together really well, and really played as a family,” said fourth-year SMCC coach Karen O’Brien, agreeing that her Kestrels never got rattled, no matter how many runs the Sentinels made at them. “Well, they have been through (the tough battles), but I think it’s just the confidence and the belief that no matter what anybody throws at us, we can recover and come back.”

The match-up was a contrast in resumes, for sure.

On one hand, the Kestrels (40-4-3) have won five state titles in the last 15 seasons, and countless other trophies (you know your program has arrived when you can’t quite remember how many in a row), with Thursday’s regional crown giving them two straight, and eight regional titles in nine seasons. The 2016 squad lost in five sets to Adrian Madison in the regional final on the very same Whitmore Lake High School floor where Thursday’s match was played.

On the other hand, there’s the Charyl Stockwell program that is still in its infancy, having won its first-ever postseason matches en route to the district title last week, then beating Madison, 25-23, 25-16, 25-13, for the school’s first-ever win in a regional match.

“It was definitely like a dream come true. Coming from a small school, we have a great community. It was awesome to see them come out and fill the stands and support us,” said junior Lila Splavec. “It (districts) was a great accomplishment, and we were super excited for our school, but we just got right back in the gym, and were ready to keep fighting, and go as far as we possibly could.”

The run ended against a Kestrels squad that might be poised to add another state title banner to its gymnasium. While SMCC had better hitting numbers than CSPA, the difference might just have been the speed at which the Kestrels were able to run their offense, keeping the Sentinels off-balance on the other side of the net.

“We weren’t surprised at what we received tonight from St. Mary. I’m proud of how the girls played. I wish we could’ve set a little better tonight, so we could’ve had some better swings,” Paula Gallentine said. “But their game is so fast that we had a tough time getting our sets where they needed to be so we could terminate more often.”

Jessica Long had 22 assists and Sarah Reicker 11, setting up 12 kills for Mikayla Haut, nine for Anna Dean, and six for Madelyn Haut, who hit .556. Samantha Michael had just three kills, but hit .600.

But it was the Kestrels’ defense that was able to clamp down on Charyl Stockwell’s big hitters, running a consistent block at the 6-foot-4 Splavec, and digging up what Paige Gallentine and Jenna Vaske could throw at them from the outside.

Gallentine finished with 15 kills, 14 digs and eight assists, while Vaske had 13 kills and 13 assists and Kehn had 14 digs and eight assists.

“We knew (Vaske, Gallentine and Splavec) were their primary hitters. (Vaske), when you play against a lefty, it takes a while to adjust to what they’re doing, and it took us a while to realize that when she started way out side, she’d really hit cross-court. When she moved inside, she’d hit more line,” O’Brien said. “Making that adjustment, Jessica Long, our setter, really started to dig her up in the third set. And that was huge.”

The Sentinels carried momentum from a run at the end of Set 1 into Set 2, jumping out to an 8-5 lead, and had an 11-8 advantage before SMCC rattled off 11 of the next 13 points to take control of the second stanza.

CSPA led 4-1 to start Set 3, then fell behind 20-15, before rallying to tie bring it to just a two-point margin at 22-20, before SMCC ran off the final three points of the match to advance.

It was a vastly different postseason run than last year’s for Charyl Stockwell.

Last season, the Sentinels were ranked No. 1 in Class C at one point in the season, but wound up losing to runner-up Laingsburg in the first match of districts.

“I’m proud of the way my team played. We’d never made it this far before. No team in our school had ever made it this far. It’s a big deal for our school. I’m so proud of them — I can’t really explain it — I’m so proud of how hard our team worked for this,” said senior libero Theresa Kehn, who will likely start at NCAA Division III Calvin College next season. “Yes, I cannot wait to see what CSPA volleyball does in the future. We’ve done some really big things.”

Kehn has spent the last seven years — from sixth grade on — with Paula Gallentine as her coach, helping lay the program’s foundation of success.

“Every year, we’ve had a better year since the first year. We joined the MHSAA just four years ago, and the girls have passed the centennial mark in wins in just the last three seasons. We’re at like 106-ish right now. Every year, we’ve surpassed more milestones. We’re proud of what we’ve accomplished in a short period of time, for sure,” said Paula Gallentine.

“We actually get to hang a banner now, because we went undefeated in the MIAC, and that banner’s on order. That’ll be hung soon. But next year, we’re looking to increase the number of wooden mittens, and maybe a state banner. There’s some more left in us, for sure.”

Next season, the Sentinels return seven of the 10 players on this year's roster, including Paige Gallentine, Jenna Vase and Splavec.

“I’m so excited to play another year with these girls. It’s such a great family,” Splavec said. “Senior year, we’ll definitely go far.”