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D1 VOLLEYBALL SEMIS: No. 2 Lowell rallies to knock off defending champ Lake Orion, move on to first-ever title match

By: MATTHEW B. MOWERY, November 21, 2019, 7:30 pm

BATTLE CREEK — The longer Lake Orion could remain “THE CHAMP” — measured in minutes, points and sets — the more they could keep a Lowell team that had never been this far before on its heels.

And the better chance the Dragons had of continuing their improbable title defense.

But the No. 2-ranked Red Arrows, down 7-2 in the second set after dropping the first, made adjustments of both a physical and mental nature, and turned the match on a dime, rallying to win set two, then the next three to advance to their first-ever state title match.

“They played really well in the first set. They blocked the crap out of the ball. Kudos to them. They came out prepared for us. We had a game plan, and their game plan kind of matched ours … and they took away what we were going to try to do to them. We made an adjustment after the first set, but kudos to them. They came out ready,” said Lowell coach Jordan Drake. “I think it was an intensity thing. We came out in the first set and body language wasn’t great on our side of the net. Not really giving to each other like we normally do. It was kind of the same way against Mattawan on Tuesday. These three make an adjustment with the team — I don’t know what they say to each other in the huddle, but something works, and we end up adjusting physical and mental.”

Obligatory question, then: What DID the Red Arrows (55-3) say to each other?

“Just kind of stuff to get us motivated, to calm us down. Just shake everything off, get a new mindset … just kind of reset and get going again,” said Jenna Reitsma, who finished with 29 kills despite a heavy blocking effort by the Dragons (39-16-2). 

Lowell advances to the championship match on Saturday, facing No. 1 Farmington Hills Mercy. [For pairings, CLICK HERE.]

Lake Orion’s title defense ends in the semifinals — but considering nobody thought they’d be this far — they played like they had nothing to lose.

“Yeah, we talked about that. We felt that the pressure was all on them. They were the favorites all year, coming in. Also, the two previous times we played them, they handled us relatively easily. So we just thought, come in with a good game plan, and try to get on them early. It’s the first time in this environment, overall, so we thought we could get out on them early, if we just played well early,” Lake Orion coach Tony Scvarda said. “We had a game plan. We knew we were going to key on No. 4 (Reitsma) the whole time. We knew they set her predominantly. And it worked. Then they started hitting different shots, from different spots on the court. Credit them, they’re a great team. Especially No. 4, she can hit from any spot on the court. We knew she was going to be tough. She wasn’t just going to go away.”

The big lights of Kellogg Arena did get to the Red Arrows a bit, too.

“It was a really new experience for us all,” Sophia Powell said. “We’d never played in a place as big as this, with as many people, so coming here, having the lights on us, getting used to that, and then just moving forward and focusing on our game.”

Her teammate, Meghan Meyer, agreed.

“I think there was a little nerves, because we’d never made it this far before, and there were a lot of people, and it was just overall super exciting and something new,” Meyer said.  “After the first few points, we were just like ‘OK, we’ve gotta drop the nerves, we’ve gotta get playing.’”

Twice before, when they’d faced off, the Dragons hadn’t been able to stop Reitsma where she was. This time, they did, forcing Drake to move her around more. 

“They looked like a completely different team than we played the first two times. Hats off to them for that,” the coach said. “They came out swinging hard, and came out blocking hard against us.”

While the Dragons’ 12 team blocks limited the Red Arrows to .211 hitting as a team, they themselves hit just .091, led by nine kills by Kendall Robertson. 

At this point, just making it this far, for the Dragons, was like playing with house money.

“I thought it was just all gravy, from what we went through in this postseason. Nobody expected us really to get past our first district match. We were the underdogs a couple times in the postseason, and got through it,” Scvarda said. “Now that we’re at this point, we figured ‘Might as well go for it. We’re here.’ They played well. That first set and a half, some of our best volleyball of the season, really. Then Lowell just picked up their game, and we couldn’t quite match it.”