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Brighton serves its way past South Lyon East in district opener, South Lyon breezes past Pinckney

By: Matthew B. Mowery, October 30, 2018, 1:55 am

HARTLAND — You can control a big hitter with your blocking. But a big server? That’s harder to counter.

South Lyon East managed to slow down Brighton’s big-hitting offense for much of the second Division 1 district match Monday night at Hartland, but couldn’t come up with an answer for the Bulldogs’ service game, losing 23-15, 25-23, 25-18.

“We have really good net play, good at blocking. As you could see today, we fell short on serve receive. … It’s imperative,” East coach Stephanie Zemaitis said, noting that it’s been an off-and-on issue for her Cougars all season. “It fluctuates. I think when we come up against harder serves — obviously the one server today got us. We had no answer for. We struggle with it. Everybody sort of backs down, once you kind of get that nervous jitter.”

The one server who got the Cougars (28-7-1) was all-stater Celia Cullen, whose top-spin jump serve was diving straight toward the floor, good for seven aces to go with her team-high 15 kills.

“When she’s on, her stats on serving are through the roof. She almost has two aces to every error. At the high school varsity level, that’s a phenomenal stat. She’s hitting 86 percent in, but she’s a high-risk, high-reward server,” Brighton coach Scott Pitcher said, noting she’s one of three servers he’s ultimately confident in to close out a tight set. “There’s three servers I’m comfortable with in that situation. One would be Celia. Another would be Annalise (Berry), our libero, and the other would be Elaine (Halonen). Elaine and Annalise are our zone control servers. C, I give her seams, primarily, and ask her to get it anywhere in the seam, and let the ball do what it does. When she’s on with that, and it starts going up around 45 mph, it’s down in the dirt.”

Now with 184 aces on the season, Cullen — a Michigan State commit — closed out a second set with two of them, finishing off a comeback for the Bulldogs (34-9-5) from down 15-10, 21-17 and 23-20. She recorded the final two service points of the match, as well, giving her 184 aces on the season.

“I’m a firm believer that 60 percent of matches are won and lost at the varsity or national level on serve and serve receive. Handle your passing, good things will happen. The second set, our passing was not good. … They came through, and once they got back within two points, then I’m comfortable, because we tend to do this (nosedive) and then up again,” Pitcher said. “We weren’t doing a good job of making our setters comfortable, so the sets weren’t consistent, and our hitters were either on the way down, hitting low, into the tape. So give them (the blockers) credit for being where they needed to be.”

The Bulldogs will take on Hartland in the second district semifinal of the evening on Tuesday, playing for a spot in Thursday’s district final.

In the first semifinal of the evening Tuesday, it’ll be South Lyon vs. Howell, after the back-to-back Lakes Valley Conference champion Lions (34-8-2) cruised past Pinckney (31-14-4) in Monday’s first match, 25-4, 25-8, 25-15.

“I think we were able to run our fast offense, and able to just kind of control the match. The offense we have this year with my senior class is just very talented and very fast,” South Lyon coach Rebecca Tincknell said. “If we can’t get the passes up, it’s hard for us to get it to Abby Durecki, who gets tons of points for us. So that’s our main focus, to make sure we’re able to run her and all of our plays.”

Durecki hit .438 for the match, with nine kills, while Danielle Booth had five kills, and Ava Krygier four. Emily Kalinowski had 17 assists, while Allie Longstreet and Stephanie Kalinowski (13 digs) had two aces each.

For the Pirates of Pinckney, it was an inglorious end to one of the better seasons in recent memory, with the Pirates finishing third in the Southeastern Conference, with an overall record of 31-14-4.

Pinckney coach Susan Bostian wasn’t exactly giddy to be reunited with all the Kensington Lakes Activities Association teams the Pirates had left behind two seasons ago, when they left the league at the same time the South Lyon schools — and others — split off to form the Lakes Valley Conference.

“It certainly did (used to be an all-KLAA district). So we get out of the KLAA, and the state turns around and puts us back into the KLAA. When I called the state, I said ‘You know, we got out of the KLAA for a reason.’ I said, ‘We’ve got 1,000 students, and you’re throwing us in against 2,600 students,’” Bostian said. “It’s absolutely ridiculous. It’s not fair, because we show better with schools that we’re equal with. We just didn’t play well.”

Pinckney has 1,067 students, just slightly more than East’s 1,063, and less than South Lyon’s 1,225. The other three schools in the district — Howell (2,387), Brighton (2,202) and Hartland (2,104) — have significantly more, one of the key reasons for the dissolution of the KLAA.