Battle Creek’s best: Ten individual superlative performances from MHSAA volleyball semifinals and finals
Having had a few days to let last week’s volleyball action settle in our minds, here’s our list of superlatives from the matches we saw at Battle Creek’s Kellogg Arena for semifinals and finals. This isn’t intended to be an all-state team, or even an honor-roll team for the entirety of the playoffs — plenty of other kids had fine tournament runs, and huge performances.
The recurring storyline at Battle Creek this year, though, was the disparity between teams and players who hadn’t been on that stage before — and maybe had been a bit shaky or unnerved by it — and those who handled it with perfect aplomb. This is a nod toward the latter, the kids who shone the brightest on the biggest stage.
Paige Briggs, outside hitter, Lake Orion
Any list of this sort has to start at the top, with Paige Briggs, who had the “best game of (her) life” with 43 kills in the five-set semifinal upset of Farmington Hills Mercy, then followed that up with 30 more in the championship match against Rockford. When she heated up at the end of their match, in the fourth and fifth sets, Mercy couldn’t find a way to slow down Briggs — who started the season as a Miss Volleyball finalist — despite at times throwing a triple block at her. “We just didn’t have an answer for her,” Mercy’s Jess Mruzik said. And it wasn’t just a matter of volume swings, either: Briggs hit .429 in the semifinal match and .491 in the finals.
Wren Macaulay, setter, Lake Orion
In reality, the Dragons’ senior setter probably deserved to be a Miss Volleyball finalist when the list came out, but she got the last laugh, getting other hardware, namely a championship ring. She did it by orchestrating a Dragons offense throughout the tournament run, but also by understanding when she didn’t need to overthink things, and just get the ball to the hottest hitter in Battle Creek. “As a setter, I go to whoever is getting kills, and if she’s hot, I’m setting her. If she’s getting kills, I’m going to that person. I mean, I always want to mix it up a little bit, but they weren’t stopping (Briggs) at that point. So I don’t see any reason not to set her,” Macaulay said after the semifinal win. The senior had 53 assists, 12 digs and three aces against Mercy, and 50 assists, seven digs and four blocks against Rockford.
Ciara Livingway, libero, Lake Orion
As the libero, Livingway helped the Dragons hold Mercy to .215 hitting, and Rockford to .219 hitting, recording a team-high 21 digs in the semis, and a team-high 13 in the finals. Incredibly important. But maybe not her biggest contribution. Livingway had five aces against Mercy and four more against Rockford, helping the Dragons keep both opponents out of system as much as possible.
Jordyn Gates, setter, Grand Rapids Christian
The Eagles hit .349 as a team in the three-set sweep of Lake Odessa Lakewood in the semifinals, then .298 as a team in the three-set sweep of reigning Class B champ Pontiac Notre Dame Prep in the championship match. Gates had 35 and 38 assists, and added 35 digs, 29 of them against Notre Dame Prep, when the Eagles dug up everything, holding the Irish to a .135 hitting mark as a team. “Tonight, they just overwhelmed us,” Lakewood coach Cameron Rowland said after the semifinals. “Their setter had them in system, no matter where they passed the ball. And they just absolutely overwhelmed us.”
Maria Bos/Addie VanderWeide, outside hitters, Grand Rapids Christian
Grand Rapids Christian coach Tiffannie Gates was all but rubbing her hands together after the semifinals, anticipating the fact that the Eagles were playing an outside-heavy team in Notre Dame Prep in the finals, rather than a middle-heavy team, something they struggle more with. That despite the fact that the two outsides for NDP, Natalie Risi and Maddy Chinn, were Miss Volleyball finalists, and Chinn was the winner. Why? Because Gates knew her outsides would at least hold their own. They did, too. After hitting .316 with nine kills in the semis, Bos hit .362 with a match-high 21 in the finals, while VanderWeide added 17 kills on .256 hitting. The duo more than offset Chinn (.176, 17 kills) and Risi (.244, 14 kills) in the finals match.
Maddy Chinn, outside hitter, Pontiac Notre Dame Prep
Let’s face it, the weekend probably is not one that the Purdue-bound Miss Volleyball winner wants to recall very frequently, since the Irish fell short of a repeat title, but Chinn went out swinging. She had 17 kills on .419 hitting, along with three blocks, two aces and 13 digs in the semifinal win over Corunna, then had a team-high 17 kills (albeit on .176 hitting) on 51 swings in the finals, adding nine digs, two blocks and an ace. She finishes the season with 662 kills, giving her 2,536 for her career, ninth-most in MHSAA history, according to the online record book.
Keona Salesman, outside hitter, Bronson
The 6-foot-1 junior outdueled Unionville-Sebewaing’s Rylee Zimmer (16 kills, .213) in the finals, recording 19 kills on .415 hitting, after notching a team-high 23 kills to go with five aces and 26 digs in the five-set semifinal win over Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central. On the short list for next year’s Miss Volleyball? Probably.
Elizabeth Norris, middle hitter, Corunna
The 5-foot-11 junior didn’t finish the season on Saturday, as the Cavaliers bowed out to Notre Dame Prep in the semifinals, but she may have served notice that she may need to be on the watch list for Miss Volleyball candidates for next season. In the semifinal loss, Norris had 14 kills on the night, giving her a season total of 879 on the season, the 13th-highest single-season total in state history. Tuesday, she passed the school record of her older sister, Meredith, who won Miss Volleyball in 2016, before signing with Michigan State, and ranks second on the MHSAA’s all-time kills list (3,126).
Anna Smith, outside hitter, Mendon
If you’re looking ahead two seasons for possible Miss Volleyball candidates, Mendon’s Smith should probably be on that list. The 5-foot-9 sophomore had a match-high 20 kills on .390 hitting in the semifinal sweep of Southfield Christian, then bettered that with an 18-kill performance in the finals against Leland, hitting .500. On the season, she had more than 600 kills, hitting .396 through regionals, and leading the Hornets in blocks and aces, and finishing third in digs.
Kiera Lasky, libero, Bronson
The Miss Volleyball finalist wrapped up her career with a fourth state title, recording 14 digs in the three-set sweep of Unionville-Sebewaing in the finals, after notching 17 in the five-set, come-from-behind win over top-ranked Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central in the semis. Her biggest contribution, though, may have been her leadership, as coach Jean LaClair noted after both matches that she let her players handle the late-match timeouts. “Sometimes, I’ve just gotta let them handle things. They need that,” the coach said. That means a large dose of Lasky. “I won’t say what I I told them (in our huddle),” Lasky recounted with a smile after the title match. “I told coach that ‘I got this.’ We had a little talk.”