Battle Creek — Waterford Lakes showed it could play with eight-time defending Class D state champion Battle Creek St. Philip Friday afternoon at Kellogg Arena.
Lakes' problem was finishing the job against St. Philip in the Class D semifinal, allowing the Tigers to try to set a state record for consecutive state titles Saturday at 10 a.m. when it faces Leland. Marysville also won eight straight titles (1997-2004, Class B).
St. Philip had a much easier time of sweeping Lakes in the state title match last season, 25-12, 25-22, 25-19 than when the teams met Friday.
After junior outside hitter Courtney Wightman put on a show in the opening minutes to set the tempo while giving Lakes a 10-4 lead, then getting another kill for a 23-21 cushion and yet another for set point at 24-23, unforced errors prevented them from taking Game 1.
St. Philip ultimately won Game 1 30-28 and went on to earn a three-game sweep, including a 25-21 Game 2 win when Lakes held a 15-13 cushion before again suffering problems while serving. The Tigers (53-12-4) won Game 3, 25-20.
"We made a lot of unforced errors in the match and it affected the outcome," Lakes coach Stephanie Swearingen said. "If we had taken Game 1, I think we would have been less nervous and helped us move forward.
"We had a lot of missed serves and that will make or break you. Serving has not been our strong suit all year."
In all, Lakes (27-22-5) had 17 service errors compared to just three for St. Philip, proving to be the difference. Lakes also had 23 attack errors, leading them to hit at a sub-.200 clip (.195).
Wightman was a bright spot for Lakes. She had 20 kills, 10 digs and a .302 hitting percentage with her younger sister, sophomore Lindsay Wightman accounting for 15 kills and a .351 hitting percentage. Junior setter Beth Meehan had 42 assists.
Still, it was the bad serving that Courtney Wightman couldn't shake.
"When you start missing seven serves, that was definitely a part of that issue and that wasn't just one person either," Courtney said. "That really got us out of our rhythm, then our serve receive broke down and we didn't run our offense as well as we usually do and our hitters got out of sync and everything just seemed to go downhill from there.
"In my opinion we are the better team, but we didn't come out and play our best. That's not the team we are and I'm looking forward to coming back next year. I'm proud of the way everyone played all season, a lot of people doubted we could get this far."
Junior outside hitter Abby McKinzie had 17 kills and Emily Schaub, 29 assists for St. Phillip while Megan Parker, Kameron Haley and McKinzie each had 11 digs.
"That's something that we've done pretty much all year, but they keep battling and they're fighters," said St. Philip coach Vicky Groat of the Game 1 comeback. "I'm so happy we're going to play in the championship match tomorrow.
"Sure, there's pressure (on repeating again and again). I put pressure on myself, No. 1 to live up to what my Mom (Sheila Guerra) started and two, for these kids who work hard every single day to be playing that final week of the season. I had a goal to get to nine like her, but it's all right to go one up, I think she'd want that for me."
Groat matched her mother's total of nine state championships at St. Philip last year. She also pointed out the girls have faced a tough couple of weeks with the passing of St. Philip principal Tim May.
"This last week and a half, after losing Mr. May, our principal, to a heart attack November 10th, these girls have fought together and our student body showed it's in force," Groat said. "I know Tim and my Mom are looking down on us and are very proud."
In the other semifinal, Leland (43-12-4) bounced back from a one-sided Game 1 loss to defeat Onaway, 10-25, 25-18, 25-20, 21-25, 15-0 … that's right 15-0 win in the deciding game.
Senior Erica Ongaro had five of her nine aces in Game 5 and junior outside hitter Maddie Trumbull had five of her 21 kills during the same pivotal juncture of the match.
"As much as her (Ongaro) serving was great, and it was great, but there was some crazy touches on the ball to save points," pointed out Laurie Glass who guided Leland to a state title in 2006 with her daughter, Miss Volleyball winner Alisha Glass (Penn State All-American) leading the way. "I felt Miranda Harrison made some big digs during that run on the line against No. 10 (Lexi Szymoniak), who was swinging for all she had and I just think they were crucial, and then Erica finished off by going after some passers that we were looking to go after."
Harrison finished with 15 digs.
Szymoniak had 16 kills for Onaway (35-17-5).