No. 4 Southfield Christian earns first-ever Battle Creek berth after D4 quarterfinal sweep of Kingston
BURTON — On paper, this was always a possibility.
When the coaching staff at Southfield Christian looked at its roster for this season, they figured getting one more step deeper in the tournament — after getting to quarterfinals and losing last year — was a pretty good bet.
“I told them, with the talent that we had, I thought we could make it to Battle Creek. It’s been their goal all season,” Eagles coach Mike Van Dyke said.
And now it’s a reality.
The No. 4-ranked Eagles handled Kingston in straight sets in Tuesday night’s Division 4 quarterfinal match at Burton Bendle High School, winning 25-14, 25-12, 25-12, to advance to the final four for the first time ever.
They’ll face No. 2 Mendon in the semifinals at Battle Creek’s Kellogg Arena Friday at noon.
“This is amazing. I’m so excited. This is the farthest the school has ever gotten. We’re thrilled. … We are SO excited. We’ve been looking forward to this for the whole year,” said junior outside hitter Emily Van Dyke, admitting that the last year’s quarterfinal loss in straight sets to eventual Class D runner-up Fowler was a motivating force. “It really pushed us. It really hurt the team a lot, but this year, we came back stronger.”
The Eagles (27-9-3) also got a bit stronger with the addition of junior Caitlin Warnshuis, who was a member of last year’s Class D champion Plymouth Christian Academy squad. She played middle for PCA, but forms a formidable outside tandem with Emily Van Dyke for Southfield Christian. The duo had a combined 33 kills Tuesday, 23 of them by Emily Van Dyke, who went over the 1,000-kill plateau for her career in a regional semifinal win over PCA.
“It’s another outside, gives us a 1-2 punch. She played for PCA last year, and they took it all. She’s used to this,” Mike Van Dyke said of Warnshuis.
Having already been through the playoff battles, Warnshuis is relishing watching her teammates go through the elation for the first time.
“Yes. One of my friends started crying, and I was just like ‘Oh, my gosh, that’s so cute.’ It really is,” the junior said. “I’m just kind of letting them experience it. It’s definitely not as exciting as it would have been the first time. But it’s definitely exciting with a whole new team, definitely exciting.”
The experience might be a wild ride, but Tuesday’s match was almost anticlimactic, considering how much the Eagles controlled it with their service game, finishing with 13 aces on the night.
As a precursor of things to come, Warnshuis opened the match with three straight aces (of her team-high five on the night), as Southfield Christian sped out to a 7-1 lead.
In the second set, the Eagles got out to a 13-6 lead, and Kingston never got it closer than six points again after that.
“Yeah. We served pretty tough,” Mike Van Dyke said. “If we can get a lot of free balls, or not very good hits, out of it, that’s to our advantage.”
Kingston kept it closer at the start of the third set, leading 6-5, and cutting it back to 14-10, forcing the Eages to call a timeout to regroup, regain some energy.
“We lost our focus a little bit. But we talked to them, and they picked it back up,” Mike Van Dyke said. “We we just made some errors. We weren’t stopping them at the net, and we left some holes. They hit the ball through in the middle of the court, and got some points. I called a timeout, and they corrected it.”
After Kingston cut it back to 11-10, Warnshuis ripped off seven straight service points, before making a service error at 19-11. After an Emily Van Dyke line shot got the service back for the Eagles, Haley Ellington all but served out the match, getting it to game point before a service error ended her run.
One serve later, though, the Eagles were Battle Creek-bound.
All along, they knew it was possible, but they didn’t know it was for sure, until they beat conference rival Plymouth Christian. The conference battles in the MIAC, with the two-time defending Class D champs, PCA, as well as up-and-coming Charyl Stockwell, a regional finalist in Division 3, helped hone the Eagles for their playoff run.
“It forced us to improve after ever point, and we played in a lot of Division I tournaments, which just made us better,” Emily Van Dyke said. “We had some rough patches. We really play like a roller-coaster, but we picked it up as the season went on. After we beat PCA, we had faith we could do it.”
The team’s lone senior, Grace Sanders had three digs, while Van Dyke had 12 digs and three aces. Rachel Stiteler had 30 assists and three aces, Caroline Keating had four kills and four digs, Lauren Korotney had six digs, and Haley Ellington had three assists, two aces and 11 digs.