No. 1 Leland moves on to D4 finals, as expected, but 7-hour trip to semis well worth it for No. 9 Carney-Nadeau
BATTLE CREEK — When you’re ranked No. 1 in the state, that lofty perch comes with an expectation that you’ll probably be one of the final teams standing on the season’s final weekend.
That’s doubly true if you’re program has been to the semifinals in four of the last five seasons, and made double-digit trips to the championship match over the years, winning five titles.
It’s little surprise that the Leland Comets — ranked in the top three all season, the final four weeks ranked No. 1, and haven’t dropped a single set in postseason play — are in the Division 4 championship match, facing off against No. 2 Mendon.
The Comets (47-10-1) and Hornets (48-6-3) will play in the Division 4 title game at 10 a.m. at Kellogg Arena.
“I’m super excited for these kids. I think they’ve worked very hard all season long, with a big dream to try to get down here and get to the finals,” Leland coach Laurie Glass said. “And I think they have done that. They achieved the goal that they set out to do this year.”
Leland took that last step by beating No. 9 Carney-Nadeau, 25-21, 25-14, 25-16, in Friday’s semifinal match.
“Surreal. I dreamt about this happening, but the fact that it’s happening is really amazing. The feeling is undescribable,” said senior Hannah Elwell, who had a match-high 17 kills, hitting .441. “I think I felt more calm today than I have in any other postseason games. I was really excited coming in, and I had some nerves going in, but that all went away as soon as the first ball went over, and I just kind of got wrapped up into the game, had a lot of fun.”
Ella Siddall had 34 assists and five of the Comets’ 15 aces, while Allie Martin (13 digs), Mia Osorio (14 digs) and Tatum Kareck (10 digs) all reached double digits in digs.
After a tight first set, the Comets pulled away quickly to put the match away.
“I think always when you get to this point in time, and you get in that first set, you’re always trying to feel out what you’ve seen on film, and what you see on paper, and what’s actually happening in practice,” Glass said. “I thought it took us a little while to do some of the things that we had planned on doing, but then once we got the momentum. That has been the case a lot this year, where we’re in it with people, and then we’re not. That just was another pattern that we saw today.”
While it was a no-brainer to see Leland get past the semifinals, more rare was who their opponent was. Very few — even the Wolves themselves — expected Carney-Nadeau to be here.
“For me, just sad to end. The kids did a great job, all season long,” said Carney-Nadeau coach Steve Kedsch.
“At the beginning of the season, we didn’t expect to get this far. It wasn’t even on our radar. We were a team that was just hoping to win our division in our conference, and halfway through the season, the kids were playing great volleyball, and our goals changed at that point. It was to win our conference outright, win our districts, win the regionals, and even beyond that — we weren’t expecting to get to states. These kids played their hearts out this year, especially in the tournament.”
The Wolves’ only loss to a Michigan team before Friday came against Class B Sault Ste. Marie, a school with 633 more students than Carney-Nadeau’s 88.
“Going to a small school, we have not a lot of kids to pick from. We start every sport,” said Talisha McCullogh, who had 10 assist and nine digs in the match.
That’s part of the reason Friday’s trip to the semis was so impactful for the program.
“I think it was a really special experience to be probably the only team that had a seven-hour drive down here, you know? I just think it’s been a long time since a Carney team has gone to states. We really made our small community proud, and it was an honor to be here,” said Alanis Harris, who had 22 digs. “So huge. Especially those girls that have been on varsity since eighth grade, we’ve been working our butts off. We started as warm bodies, and we got to bring a team here. We worked really, really hard for this.”
Kedsch had tapped a group of athletes as eighth-graders, hoping to fill out his roster.
When these girls were eighth graders, we were short numbers. We had like two classes with two or three girls in them, so I just brought up anybody who was an athlete to varsity. They won two matches their first year, as eighth graders. One was by forfeit. Just to watch them progress through the years. Win a district, get to regional finals, finally win a regional final their senior year. Make a trip to state, just an amazing journey for these kids,” he said. “I think we brought half our student body with us, and our mascot. Just happy that they could come down and enjoy this experience with us. What a wonderful experience for these kids, to come to state.”
The Wolves’ small but loud cheering section was raucous to the end.
“It was a long, wonderful ride,” McCullough said. “Then at the end of the game, when our whole student section was cheering ‘We’re from Carney and we couldn’t be prouder,’ just makes our heart happy. We came here for a reason, and we came to fight, and that’s what we did.”