Lake Orion beats Rockford for D1 title to claim first volleyball title for an Oakland Activities Association school
BATTLE CREEK — Despite being a dominant league in all sports across the board, the Oakland Activities Association had never captured a state title in girls volleyball in its 25-year history.
That is, until Saturday afternoon at Battle Creek’s Kellogg Arena.
Lake Orion broke down the long-standing barrier with a four-set victory over seventh-ranked Rockford. The Dragons prevailed 25-18, 25-23, 23-25, 25-16 to win the school’s second state title in girls sports and first since the Dragons’ girls golf team captured the D-1 title in the spring of 2007.
“I didn’t even know that. I knew this was the first (title) for Lake Orion,” said Lake Orion coach Tony Scavarda. “It is a great accomplishment. Being the only one from the OAA, being that is one of the toughest leagues in the state, that’s surprising.”
Miss Volleyball finalist Paige Briggs, headed to Western Kentucky, slammed 30 kills one day after recording 43 kills in a semifinals victory over top-ranked Farmington Hills Mercy. Briggs was 49-for-53 attacking and had nine digs and an ace in her encore performance after missing the second half of last season with a back injury.
Briggs showcased her best on the final weekend of the season for the second-ranked Dragons, who defeated three top-10 teams and two schools listed as honorable mention during the postseason run to state glory.
“We usually have Wren (Macaulay) spread it around, but I told her to get it to Paige. I didn’t care how tired she was going to be — she can rest on Sunday. We had to get it to her,” said Scavarda.
“I knew they had it in them. We just had to put it all together and they were able to do it,” added Scavarda. “We’ve been in several situations where were down in a set. They don’t stop playing. They could have said, ‘Nah, we’ll get the next set.’ But that wasn’t this team. We’re down 24-23 in the third set, but we still fought to the very end of that set."
Lake Orion lost in the districts to rival Clarkston the past two years and in the regional semifinals to Romeo in 2015. The Dragons put together quite a run in 2018, which included a sweep of No. 9 and OAA Red Devision champion Rochester Stoney Creek in the regional finals.
“I think that’s when we really started to play well and I thought that this could be possible,” said Scavarda, who had 10 seniors on an 18-player roster. “We lost to (Stoney Creek) earlier in the season and we didn’t have Sydney Smith, who was out with an injury. We still took them to five games. In our district finals against Clarkston, we won but didn’t play our best. We were at our best in the final couple weeks of the season and it ended with a state title.”
The state finals match was a rematch of the 2011 Class A finals, which Rockford won, 3-0. Previously, current OAA member Ferndale lost in the Class A finals back in 1976, some 18 years before the formation of the OAA. No other OAA member had even reached the state finals until Lake Orion finished as the Class A runner-up in 2011.
Conveniently, it was Briggs’ kill that ended the match this time, putting the finishing touches on a dream run for the Dragons, who set a school record with a 68-6-0 overall ledger. The previous school best win total was 61 back in 2015.
“This is such a blessing,” smiled Briggs, a two-year starter at Lake Orion after starting spending her first two seasons of prep volleyball over at neighboring Oxford. “I just went out and did whatever my team needed. It’s so exciting.”
Macaulay had 50 assists and seven digs with 30 of the assists going to Briggs. Leigha Boes added nine kills, Sydney Smith had seven kills, Ciara Livingway supplied 13 digs and four service aces and Kendall Robertson had six kills for Lake Orion.
“This kind of feels unreal, being a (four-year player),” said Macaulay, who will head to Division I New Hampshire University. “It was frustrating the past three years losing (in the tournament). We had a great year this (season). It’s so exciting to go out this way.”
Rockford came back to win Game 3 in narrow fashion, but the Rams were quickly on their heels in Game 4. Lake Orion jumped out to an early 10-3 advantage in the match-clinching set and cruised, never allowing Rockford to get any closer than 16-11 in Game 4.
Lindsay Taylor slammed 20 kills with 14 digs to pace Rockford (47-11-1). Emilee Karelse had 36 assists and Emmy Webb contributed 12 kills for the Rams, who were making their second finals appearance in three years and third in eight seasons. Rockford also lost in the 2016 finals to Novi.
“I’m super proud of how well we played. It’s not easy playing under the lights in front of a big crowd and cameras and I thought we still performed very well,” Rockford coach Kelly Delacher said. “We played with a lot of pressure throughout the whole tournament. Lake Orion is a very good team and a very deserving champion. I felt like the match came down to serving and passing. They served better than we did and passed better than we did.”