Battle Creek – Cassandra Haut, Skylar Iott and the rest of Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central's players gave Diane Tuller a great retirement gift at Kellogg Arena Saturday afternoon: a Class C championship.
Haut, a 6-foot-2 senior middle hitter headed for Eastern Michigan, had 23 kills, and Iott 15 kills and a .324 hitting percentage in a 23-25, 29-27, 25-20, 25-22 victory over Schoolcraft.
"There's no words to describe how much it means for us to leave her with something, her last state championship, her last year coaching and for us to be the last team she gets to coach," Haut said of Tuller. "You'll never find another coach like her and I know we're all honored to have been able to play for her and glad we can leave her with something her last season."
After a Game 1 loss, Haut rallied St. Mary (45-8-2) from a 27-26 Game 2 deficit, getting consecutive kills to close out a 29-27 victory to even the match.
"They came out strong against us and we had to fight our way back a lot of times," Haut said. "We knew they'd fight to the end. We definitely tried focusing on passing a lot more so we could run our offense better and then moving the ball around from hitter to hitter (in Game 2 and beyond)."
Tuller said St. Mary made some adjustments after Game 1.
"We were still trying to cover the crosscourt kills where No. 12 (Jayci Suseland) and No. 8 (Shelby Suseland) were both killing us in cross-court so we adjusted a little bit there, and we were also getting beat in the middle so we tried to go back to a 2-man block in the middle instead of just one to stop that," pointed out Tuller. "But, mostly it was just move our feet and play our kind of game. I think we have a stronger defensive team than they do."
St. Mary won Game 3, 25-20, then had to come back from a 20-19 deficit in Game 4. That's when Iott took over, getting a block for a 21-20 cushion, a kill for a 22-21 lead, then a block to start the celebration.
Tuller talked of her final season, and final state championship.
"It's just time," she said of her decision to retire. "It's not so much the state championship that means a lot to me now, but the fact at the beginning of the season I wasn't sure whether this team had what it took to get there. They improved and kept working hard, and did everything I asked of them.
"It goes without question that Cassie's a great player, but we have two good outside hitters, a right-side hitter that can hit and Skylar just came through today and had a big day for us, too."
Tuller finished with five state championships, all coming since 2003, with the final three taking place in the last five years (2010, '12, '14). She won 594 games during her 17-year career with her final one possibly being the biggest treasure of all.