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D4 VOLLEYBALL SEMIS: No. 5 Leland cruises past No. 10 Rudyard, setting up rematch for title

By: MATTHEW B. MOWERY, November 21, 2019, 4:51 pm

BATTLE CREEK — With six trips to the semifinals in seven seasons, five state titles and seven runner-up finishes for Leland in her 25 seasons, it’s a given that coach Laurie Glass is a Kellogg Arena fixture.

More than likely, that’s why she was a tad late for her team’s press conference, after a three-set sweep of first-time semifinalist No. 10 Rudyard, 25-21, 25-14, 25-15.

“No, somebody was asking me how they check their team in. I think they thought I was with MHSAA. I don’t know,” Glass said by way of apology, as she sat down.

The No. 5-ranked Comets (44-14-3) will get a championship-game rematch with No. 1-ranked Mendon (39-9-6) in Saturday’s first championship match. [For pairings, CLICK HERE.]

“Yeah, we’re all really excited. We’ve definitely been looking forward to this,” said Gillian Grobbel, who had 11 kills in the match.

The difference in experience did play a factor, when facing a Rudyard squad (35-5-3) that had never been to the semis before.

“I think it’s an advantage to having been down here. I will say that I had to remember that six or seven of my kids have never been down here. It’s a different sort of thing when you think that the program’s been down here a lot, but not all of the kids have had that experience. So I had to do some teaching about what it is that we do down here, and the routines for some of us that haven’t been here before,” Glass said, noting that both teams have had a lot of turnover since their matchup a season ago. “I think it starts with a really tough schedule. I think we play people that are a lot better than us, all the time, with the idea that when we get to this point in time, we’re tournament ready. We’ve been beaten up a lot. We’ve got a lot of losses this year, to a lot of really fine teams. But I think we enjoy the battle, and it prepares us for this.”

But Rudyard coach Ellen Perry didn’t see her team intimidated at all.

“I thought we were strangely calm. I didn’t see a whole lot of nerves. Yesterday, we were just talking about ‘Let’s just do what we know how to do.’ When you get out there, and that ball’s coming so much faster. We had a tough time blocking, obviously, and getting to those outside hits. But these kids are gamers, and they’re Yoopers,” Perry said. “Leland is a powerhouse. We don’t see quite that pace very often. We have to travel pretty far to play that level of volleyball.”

The Comets recorded 13 aces in the match, five of them from Olivia Lowe, who ran off 11 straight service points in the third set, mixing in five aces in the span of seven points.

“Today was helpful. We were standing on the end line, checking out the court, and how long it was, getting our groove in, and just serving smart,” Lowe said.

“It’s been a strength of ours to serve well all season,” Glass said. “We serve aggressively … not as much speed aggressively, as much as we try to force them to get out of system. That’s the goal, and to get a lot of movement on the serves is important to us.”

Rudyard rallied from deficits of 12-1 and 21-7 in that third set to make feet it back to eight, 23-15, before Leland closed out the win. 

Senior Nina Alpers led the Bulldogs with eight kills, while Sara Beelen had six kills and 10 digs. 

“We’re just really proud to be here. I feel like we could’ve fought a little more. Just to be here, it made my senior year really good,” Alpers said. “It felt amazing, just making history, and knowing that we were doing it as a team. Felt amazing.”

Unlike last year’s matchup with Mendon, Leland will have a full day to plan for the rematch.

“We’ll get into a local gym here for a little bit. We were taking film of the match, and we were taking stats of that match — just like I’m sure they were of ours — and coaches will get together and have a game plan to present in practice tomorrow for how we’re going to attack this team on Saturday,” Glass said. “But it’s nice to have.”

The match will be a bit of a contrast in styles. While Mendon rode junior outside hitter Anna Smith (36 kills, 396 for season) to a five-set win over No. 4 Southfield Christian, the Comets don’t necessarily have a go-to hitter.

“Well, she (Smith) jumps out of the gym, she’s got a whip of an arm, and I feel like she sees the court, and has a really high volleyball IQ. I think that Anna is going to get hers — you just know that going in. She’s going to get hers. The trick is just to manage everything else, and make sure that we’re taking care of our side of the net, when we get the opportunities,” Glass said. 

“It’s funny, a lot of people talk about everybody’s ‘go-to’ player. I’m not sure you could identify for our team who the go-to player is. That, for some, would say that we don’t have a player who can take over the game, but I believe we have four legit options to go to anywhere on the floor. Depends on how you view that, whether you think that’s an advantage or not. I have four really strong attackers — I don’t have an Anna. But that’s OK. I’ll take my four.”