D3 VOLLEYBALL SEMIS: No. 1 Schoolcraft doesn’t overlook No. 10 Saginaw Valley Lutheran, sweeping its way to finals
BATTLE CREEK — Sometimes, it’s easier to laugh than cry.
For a No. 10-ranked Saginaw Valley Lutheran team that hadn’t been to the semifinals since 1983, facing the top-ranked Schoolcraft Eagles, who’d been a buzz-saw for almost everyone they’ve faced, it was much easier to choose the latter after a semifinal sweep Friday.
The Eagles (48-6-1) handled the Chargers (40-9-5) quickly in the first semifinal of the day at Kellogg Arena, winning 25-10, 25-11, 25-12, to move on to Saturday’s Division 3 championship match, facing No. 2 Monroe St. Mary CC. [For full pairings, CLICK HERE.]
“Despite our demeanor, we did not come here to lose. There may have been a solid, solid chance that we’d be big underdogs. … I think they got lucky. I mean, let’s face it: We’re the better team,” Valley Lutheran coach Jon Franks said, with tongue firmly planted in cheek, before turning serious.
“They do everything well. We knew a lot about them. They beat a half-dozen top-ranked A and B teams. Just — I think them and (Monroe St. Mary CC) are just a couple of notches above everybody else in the state. We hoped that they would be looking past us. We’re a tough team, and we’ve done some come-from-behinds, but the physical reality is it’s hard to block a couple of big girls that can jump out of the gym, and run that quick of an offense.”
During the regular season, Schoolcraft knocked off No. 3 Kalamazoo Christian and honorable mention Traverse City St. Francis in their own division, as well as Division 1 semifinalist Lake Orion, D1 No. 10 Bloomfield Hills, and two of the Division 2 semifinalists, No. 2 Lake Odessa Lakewood and No. 5 Pontiac Notre Dame Prep.
Having beaten No. 4-ranked Muskegon Western Michigan Christian in quarterfinals and knocked off defending D3 champ, No. 5-ranked Bronson, in the regional semifinals, the Eagles weren’t going to get this far, only to overlook someone.
“We don’t overlook anybody. I think we’ve done a great job of that all year — and we’ve played some great teams, and played some lesser teams — but I think we try to go out and respect everybody as much as we can, and just make adjustments to what they do. We’ll never overlook everybody,” Schoolcraft coach Erin Onken said, noting she didn’t have to refocus her team after any of the big postseason wins.
“No, they were so focused. They kind of just focus each other. I don’t really say much. We just try to keep it really simple, and focus on the things we do really well, and that’s kind of been our motto all year. We talk about three things, and that’s play with energy, constant communication and try to win the serve receive battle.”
The Chargers knew all about the Eagles’ stars, including Western Michigan-bound outside hitter Andelyn Simkins (13 kills, eight digs), but Schoolcraft’s hitting wasn’t what surprised them.
“I think the thing — and tell me if I’m wrong girls — we knew their offense was packed, good setters, whatever, but their defense is just so tough to get a kill on. We thought we had some really solid attacks there, and they’d dig them out, dig them out. We do that to people. They don’t do it to us,” Franks said. “We feel blessed to be here. Our whole focus was just to enjoy every point. It’s almost ridiculous to say, but I think we played well. Kudos to them.”
Schoolcraft held Valley Lutheran to .013 hitting in the match, pulling up 38 digs to the Chargers’ 41.
The difference may have been in the service game, where the Eagles had nine service errors, but offset that with 13 aces, four of them by setter Kayla Onken.
“We do a really good job that if we make a mistake, to come right back from it. We work a lot on it at practice,” Kayla Onken said. “It catches a lot of teams off-guard with how aggressive we are. We’re pretty relentless with our serves.”
The junior setter is one of the few Eagles with any recollection of Schoolcraft’s last trip to Battle Creek, when the Eagles finished as runner-up in 2014.
“The people who were here five years ago were Kayla, on the bench. These guys (Kelby Goldschmeding and Simkins) were in the stands. But (Saturday) is going to be different. We’re going to have to keep our composure a little bit sooner. We are a strong defensive team, and we shake off mistakes really well. … It’s going to be a dogfight. And our ability to control the first contact and put the ball away sooner than we did tonight, and then defense is going to help us tremendously,” Erin Onken said, admitting any nerves her team had were short-lived. “We settled in early. We got here kind of early, and we did the spectator thing — we took the tour, and they took videos, and had their music time, and their dance time, and their picture time. They’re great at pictures and dancing. I was surprised how calm we stayed from the get-go, though. It’s a huge stage.”
Kayla Onken agreed.
“I don’t remember a whole lot about back then, but I do remember the positivity and the excitement of the girls on the bench. It’s just nice that’s where we are as a team. We get too see first-hand as a team, and experience that excitement,” the junior said. “While where we are today is exciting, what’s really exciting is how we’ve bonded throughout the experience, and how close, tight-knit we are. That’s something really special that not a lot of teams have. We got to experience that all throughout the season, and now we get to experience it here at this special place.”