No. 6 Unionville-Sebewaing caps comeback by No. 8 TC St. Francis in semis, advances to first-ever D3 state title match
BATTLE CREEK — Nobody on the Unionville-Sebewaing Area roster, other than the coaching staff, was part of the program the last time the Patriots made it to Battle Creek for volleyball semifinals.
But they remember what happened.
Sophomore Grace Williamson and seniors Rylee Zimmer and Nichole Schember said they were all in the crowd at Kellogg Arena to witness the Patriots lose in heartbreaking fashion against the same Traverse City St. Francis program they faced in Thursday’s Division 3 semis.
And coach Theresa Rose reminded them of that day when the No. 8-ranked Gladiators started to come back in the match.
“I just said ‘Don’t give up. Keep pushing. You can’t get down.’ Four years ago, we played St. Francis in the semifinals, and we were up two games, and they came back and beat us the next three, and that was just devastating to me, as a coach,” Rose said. “So I didn’t want a repeat of that. So I just said ‘Push hard’ and ‘Work hard.’”
Despite the Gladiators winning Set 3, the No. 6 Patriots kept the comeback contained, and won the match in four, 25-16, 26-24, 19-25, 21-25.
The Patriots (44-4-4) will take on two-time defending Class C champion Bronson (57-6) in Saturday’s first finals match of the day, at noon. No. 2-ranked Bronson beat No. 1 Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central, 23-25, 25-21, 25-20, 25-18, 15-4, in Thursday’s second semifinal.
“We know that the two teams that are playing now, it’s going to be tough, but these guys have a lot of heart, and want to win. I think we can stay with them, as long as we play our game,” Rose said. “I think they proved that they deserve to be here. They worked hard all season.”
The Patriots not only avenged that team from 2014 … they may have passed them.
“We came down last night and I talked to them. … I said to them, ‘No USA volleyball team has ever made it to the final. I get all the time people asking me so which is your best team?’ We’ve had some really good teams, and I told them, ‘Let me tell people this is my best team.’ So … this is my best team,” Rose said.
“We worked hard for it all season long. We upped our schedule and we went to some tougher tournaments, and we didn’t give up, ever. When we lost a set, it fueled the fire, and then they’d come out harder.
“It was a good win. It was a little nerve-wracking, but it was a good win.”
The Patriots hit .276 and .267 in the first two sets, before dipping in Set 3 to .211.
“Our setter (Schember, 38 assists does a great job of setting, knowing who to set to, and obviously Rylee (27 kills, 14 digs) and Grace (6 kills, 11 digs) and Ally (11 kills, 8 digs), they take care of business, and as long as we don’t tip, we’re good,” said Rose, who was frustrated with her team’s tentative tipping in the five-set quarterfinal win over Brown City.
Her team was frustrated with itself, too, for letting up just a bit.
“The third set, honestly, I was really mad, because we lost,” Zimmer said. “But we did pick it up, get everybody up, and that’s what we did, and got the win.”
USA did just that, hitting .361 in the final set.
The Gladiators (34-14) were frustrated by their own inability to ramp up the energy.
“That seems to be our forte: We come out a little slow, and then the steam engine starts, and we just get more and more and more. We just couldn’t get started. We couldn’t get started, and keep it started,” first-year TCSF coach Mark Witczak said. “I don’t think we played poorly — the other team obviously played very well. We made some plays that we normally don’t, and it obviously cost us pretty big. But they kept fighting all the way through, and I couldn’t be any more proud of them. I think there’s 121 other schools that would love to be here right now. I would consider this year a success.”
It was the first time the Gladiators — a frequent contender — made it to Battle Creek in three seasons. Molly Mirabelli had 22 kills and 28 digs, Kaylin Poole had 17 kills and 12 digs, and Brenna Poole 10 kills and six digs. Maddie Connolly had 12 digs.
“We were super excited to get out there, and jacked up on the bus. But once we got here, it was like this time-crunch. I think the stress got to us a little bit. Once we went out there, we were still ready, but maybe not as ready if we could’ve been. We just were not mentally prepared enough.
During the second and third set, we were ready to fight, I guess. It took us a while to get our brains going. But watching us battle is pretty cool,” Brenna Poole said.
“A lot of nerves going. It could’ve been our last time — it was our last time — when we were all together playing. I wouldn’t want it with another group of girls. … It’s awesome. I couldn’t have asked for a better senior year. … I wouldn’t want to do anything else with those girls, than be here, right now.”