No. 2 Mendon rallies together to beat No. 1 Leland for Division 4 crown
BATTLE CREEK — Following an early-season loss to Centreville in the St. Joseph County Tournament, Cierra Nightingale did what a senior leader should do.
That is rally her teammates to come together as one.
Nightingale, a senior setter from Mendon, was a part of a five-player senior class that banded the troops together and helped the Hornets put together one of their best seasons in school history. The campaign culminated in Mendon climbing to No. 2 in the Division 4 state rankings and ending with a 3-0 sweep of top-ranked Leland Saturday in the D-4 state finals at Battle Creek’s Kellogg Arena.
Mendon prevailed with a 25-16, 25-21, 25-14 victory over Leland for the school’s first state title since the 2001 winter season and fourth overall. The Hornets (49-6-3) also captured crowns in 1998 and 1999.
“We lost in our county tournament and we felt we could play better. That shouldn’t have happened,” said Nightingale. “We knew we had the chemistry and talent to do it. We decided (at that point) to work harder in every practice and in every game.”
The Hornets, which lost in the Class C district finals last season to eventual state champion Bronson, was moved to the newly-created Division 4 this year and rose to the occasion, dominating 12-time state finalist Leland on the final day. Mendon only lost 16 sets all season long — all to state-ranked opponents.
“This was one of our goals all along. We had a list of goals and this one was listed right at the top,” said senior middle hitter Mackenzie Urick. “We knew we could do this.”
And it came behind first-year coach Heather Bowers, a former All-State product at the school who returned to her roots.
“These girls have incredible chemistry,” said Bowers. “They knew this is what they wanted (from the beginning of the season). They’ve played amazing all season, but this was one of our best (performances).”
Mendon led throughout most of Game 1 and Game 3 and rallied back from a 21-19 hole in Game 2 to prevail in a little more than one hour against a perennial state powerhouse program.
“We lost to the better team today,” conceded longtime Leland coach Laurie Glass. “I don’t think we played our best today. We didn’t play bad, but not our best. If we played our best, than maybe things could’ve been different. I would love to play them again, maybe tomorrow. But congrats to Mendon. They were better than us today. They hit close to .400 as a team. It’s hard to beat a team like that.”
Mendon finished with a .392 attacking percentage and only had six attacking errors on the day, finishing 79-for-85.
Sophomore Anna Smith, one of Michigan’s top 10th-grade prospects, delivered 18 kills on a 32-for-34 attacking performance. Haley Kramer added 11 kills and five aces, Amaijha Bailey added 12 digs and Aubrey Croster collected 22 assists in the win for Mendon.
Ella Siddall had 30 assists to pace Leland (47-11-1). Allie Martin added 13 kills and Hannah Elwell contributed seven kills for the Comets, who opened the year ranked third and climbed to No. 1 in Week 8.
Leland was trying for its sixth title, but could never find any rhythm against the buzzing Hornets.
“It’s amazing to beat a team like Leland with a great coach in Laurie Glass,” smiled Flowers. “She has close to a 1,000 wins. They are always one of the best programs around every year.”