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D3 VOLLEYBALL FINALS: No. 2 Monroe St. Mary CC closes out five-set win over No. 1 Schoolcraft, capturing sixth state title

By: DAN STICKRADT, November 23, 2019, 7:46 pm

BATTLE CREEK  — Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central finishes ranked No. 1 in the only poll that truly matters.

Ranked second entering the postseason, the Kestrels rallied back for a 3-2 victory Saturday over top-ranked Schoolcraft in the MHSAA Division 3 state finals at Kellogg Arena.

St. Mary CC posted a 25-27, 25-21, 19-25, 25-18, 15-12 triumph over the Eagles, who were ranked No. 1 in the state the for nearly three months and ousted four-time defending state champion Bronson in the regional semifinals.

Down 2-1 entering the fourth game, St. Mary Catholic Central (49-2-0) made some shifts defensively and maintained a presence at the net on the block.

The Kestrels made Schoolcraft’s hitters second-guess themselves on when approaching the net and SMCC made a comeback.

In Game 5, St. Mary Catholic Central trailed 10-8 before closing on a 7-2 run to claim the school’s sixth state title and first since 2014.

“We got a lot of touches on balls and a lot of kill blocks, and I think that made them have to rethink what kind of shot they were going to hit because we do put up such a good block, and even if we’re not getting touches on our blocks, we’re channeling balls to our defense,” offered St. Mary CC coach Karen O’Brien. “We’ve always play good defense. But I thought we did an incredible job there in the last couple (sets).”

It also marked the first title for O’Brien, who is in her fifth year at SMCC, and is battling ovation cancer for a third time and was diagnosed earlier this year.

“I don’t want to do anything but coach them when I’m going through treatment because it’s something to look forward to, and I can leave cancer behind,” said O’Brien, whose team lost in the semifinals last season. “It sure takes the mind off cancer.”

St. Mary Catholic Central, which also won titles in 2003, 2007, 2010, 2012 and 2014, captured 24 sets in eight tournament matches and only yielded four sets — two in the finals to Schoolcraft.

The Kestrels had to defeat a trio of top-seven teams en route to the championship — including wins over No. 6 Brighton Charyl Stockwell Academy (3-1) in the regional finals and No. 7 Beaverton (3-0) in the semifinals to go along with the upset of No. 1 Schoolcraft.

The Kestrels lost in the state semifinals last season to eventual state champion Bronson — learning a lesson or two from a program that dominated D-3 from 2015-2018.

“Being here last year and going through a five-set loss really fueled us to come back here, and I just think that experience of playing in that gym with those lights and the fans just helped us,” added O’Brien. “We wanted this from Day 1, and we knew our goal was to be here, and it’s great for the four seniors that have been here.”

Mikayla Haut had 27 kills and 24 digs to pace St. Mary Catholic Central. Kylie Barron supplied 12 kills, Grace Lipford added 26 assists, Sarah Reicker had 24 assists, Payton Osborne recorded 24 digs, and Jaydie Nowak had 12 digs for the Kestrels, who all wore temporary tattoos over their wrists throughout the tournament run.

“We have a saying, and we have tattoos that say, ‘Allow you faith to be stronger than your fears,’ and last year, when we were here, the fears got the best of us,” said O’Brien. “The tattoo is just a reminder to have faith, not only in God, but in our players and in our coaches and in the program, and it was just a reminder of that.”

Haut had the set-tying kill that made the score 12-12, then Kylie Barron and Samantha Michael combined for a block to end the marathon match.

“We have a saying called, ‘Got your six,’ which means we have everyone’s back, so I knew in the moment that my teammates had me, and I needed to have them, too. I needed to get a kill to help us,” explained Haut.

Schoolcraft (48-7-1) defeated four state ranked teams amongst its seven postseason wins, including victories over Kalamazoo Christian (3-0), Bronson (3-0), Muskegon Western Michigan Christian (3-0) and Saginaw Valley Lutheran (3-0) — the latter two coming in the state quarterfinals and state semifinals this past week.

The Eagles finally met their defensive match in the end and were grounded on the season’s final day.

St. Mary Catholic Central recorded 18 blocks on the day, including five by Kylie Barron while three other players recorded three blocks apiece.

After opening the preseason polls at No. 3, Schoolcraft took over the No. 1 spot in the first rankings behind a 10-0-0 start. The Eagles held on to that perch until Saturday.

“This group had an amazing run,” said Schoolcraft coach Erin Onken. “We beat some really good teams to get here, and it’s been a while. We just played a really good defensive team. We knew it was going to be a battle, but we just came up a little short.”

Andelyn Simkins had 28 kills and 23 digs to lead Schoolcraft, but was blocked twice down the stretch in the pivotal Set 5.

“It’s hard because we came so close but don’t have (a championship) to show for it,” said Simkins. “It was one of those games that could have gone either way.

“We played our hearts out, but just couldn’t come through at the end,” added Simkins.

Anna Schuppel added 13 kills, Kayla Onken had 53 assists and 15 digs, Kelby Goldschmeding had 21 digs, and Made Ballett contributed 13 digs for the Eagles.