No. 2 Mendon continues its Journey, beating No. 4 Southfield Christian to earn slot in Division 4 title match
BATTLE CREEK — The Mendon Hornets are nearing the end of their Journey, but the song’s not over just yet.
In between sets of Friday’s Division 4 semifinal against No. 4 Southfield Christian, the No. 2-ranked Hornets heard the strains of a familiar song — Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” — over the loudspeakers at Battle Creek’s Kellogg Arena, and started dancing and singing along, as they always do.
“That’s the song we sing on the way to every single game. They know how far (it is), they’re GPS-ing how far away we are,” Mendon coach Heather Bowers said. “And they don’t sing it, they belt it out on the bus. We never finish the song. We always get off the bus right as the song’s about to finish. It’s just kind of something that they do, but it was a lot of energy to hear that song during the match.”
The Hornets (48-6-3) certainly didn’t need much more energy, as they were rolling toward a sweep of the Eagles (27-10-3), but it didn’t hurt, as they closed out a 25-18, 25-15, 25-13 win.
That sends them on to Saturday’s 10 a.m. Division 4 final, against the winner of Friday’s semifinal between No. 1 Leland and No. 9 Carney-Nadeau.
“This is what we’ve worked for the whole entire year, and it’s kind of unreal that it’s happening,” said senior setter Aubrey Crotser, who had 31 assists, and helped pilot a Mendon offense that hit .333 for the match, compared to .063 for Southfield Christian.
“It really starts with the pass. Our defense, when we were doing five-man (drills) before the match, we were diving for everything, because we knew it was going to be a hard game. She (Crotser) was splitting up the block. I know the middle was trying to stay with me a little bit, and Aubrey would set C.J. (Cierra Nightingale, six kills) and it was wide open, and it got us a kill. All around, I think it was our passers and setters that got us those kills,” said Anna Smith, who finished with a match-high 20 kills, some of them on tips that she intentionally incorporated into her game for this match.
“I wanted to be smart about it, but I was looking to do it, yeah. … You don’t always have to hammer it. I try to hit shots most of the time, too. You can hammer and hammer, and they can just swipe and get the dig up. If you’re smart with your shots, it’ll get you a lot farther. Those definitely boost up the confidence, those fluke kills.”
Kept out of system by the Hornets’ aggressive serving (eight aces, eight service errors), the Eagles didn’t have as much luck. Emily Van Dyke had 13 kills, while Caitlin Warnshuis had 10. Rachel Stiteler had 20 assists, and Haley Ellington and Grace Sanders both had 10 digs.
“Our serves have always been a big part of our game, and we definitely wanted to get them out of system, right away,” Bowers said.
Southfield Christian coach Mike Van Dyke agreed.
“They are a tough serving team, and we didn’t pass it the way we needed to, to run our offense,” he said. “You can’t run your offense, it’s really hard to score.”
The environment may have been a factor for the Eagles, who were making their first-ever appearance in a semifinal.
“Yeah, it’s a different environment. There’s the pressure of ‘Hey, we’re playing at state.’ It’s way different than playing at a tournament. It’s just something you have to get used to,” Mike Van Dyke said. “It’s a tough loss, but looking at our overall school history — this is the first time we’ve ever made it to the final four — so you’ve gotta look at the positive side. We have one senior (Sanders) on the team, so we’re basically going to be returning everybody back next year. Our goal is to come back again, and go further. … It’s a motivator. They’ve been here, they want to return, and they want to go further. It’s a motivator.”