Battle Creek — Auburn Hills Oakland Christian players are making sure they will send its veteran coach Priscilla Larned out in style.
Larned, in her 32nd year as coach, will be making her first appearance in the Class D state championship match Saturday morning at Kellogg Arena.
And, Oakland Christian (42-4-5) made sure of that, coming back from a 25-23 Game 1 loss to defeat Rogers City, 23-25, 25-4, 25-16, 25-25-14 Friday.
Sure, Oakland Christian had made it to the semifinals before, just not able to win once it got to Kellogg Arena to move on to the title match.
“This is an incredible day for us,” Larned said. “The kids just made history at school for the volleyball program. It’s an incredible day for my husband (Patrick) and I. This is the end of my volleyball trail. We’ve been through all the good and bad and this day was certainly a good day.”
Yes, Class D has been turned upside down with Battle Creek St. Philip’s run of 15 straight title game appearances coming to an end with a regional loss to Mendon.
This will be the first time since 2004 (Adrian Lenawee Christian) that a team other than St. Philip or Leland is state champion in Class D.
Oakland Christian will face Michigan Independent Athletic Conference-rival Plymouth Christian (33-11-3) for the state title. The teams split the two regular-season matches. Plymouth Christian defeated defending state champion Leland, 25-15, 25-16, 26-28, 25-15 in the other semifinal.
So, what did Larned say after Game 1?
“Well, my assistant (Chadd Mowry) does all the technical stuff,” Larned said. “Chadd is so technical and knows every little thing they’re doing wrong and he’s really good at getting them straightened out. But, this one right here (Alexandra Gudobba) said, ‘We’re not losing this next one. Now, come on and start playing our game.’”
Gudobba, a senior outside hitter, had 19 kills and a .349 hitting average with senior setter Samantha Morse (10 kills, .389, 33 assists), senior outside hitter Marisa Mingle (10 kills, .261) and senior middle hitters Starr Sumner (eight, .316) and Genna Castillo (five, .556) also hitting well for Oakland Christian. The Lancers hit at a .347 clip and had held the upper hand in aces (13-5).
“I think after that first game all the nerves were kind of gone and at the beginning of the second game we really all wanted it and so we just came out and played our game, capitalized when we had too, really everyone played very well,” Gudobba said.
Larned was pumped up in Game 3, getting out of her seat and yelling “Yes,” while clapping her hands after Gudobba nearly climbed over a curtain by the press table to keep a ball in play.
“We lost the point, but I was so incredibly amazed that they kept with that play and put it on the other side of the court,” Larned said. “I knew that the hustle would get us the next one (game).
Said Gudobba: “Before the game, our assistant coach Chadd said if you jump over that black curtain you can still have the ball in play so when that ball went over there I said, ‘I’m going for it.’ And, when we got the ball over I was so surprised, so proud of everyone even though we lost that point. Everyone just had smiles on their faces because that’s how we play. We scrap.”
Plymouth Christian, which lost to St. Philip in last year’s semifinal, was led by 5-foot-9 junior outside hitter Grace Kellogg who had 21 kills and a ,320 hitting percentage. Senior outside hitter Olivia Mady had 19 digs and eight kills and junior setter Abigail Pray, 37 assists.
“We came into it kind of mentally prepared that they were going to be a good team since they have a legendary coach (Laurie Glass) with over a thousand wins under her belt and knew she would be able to adapt and adjust,” said Plymouth Christian coach D.J. Kellogg, who believed playing some top Class A and B teams prepared his team for playing in the state finals.
"We talked about being aggressive before going out there. We knew they had a great hitter in No. 7 (Allie Martin) so we knew coming in we had to play defense and we would have to run our offense so serve and receive was going to be huge for us, and then so would serving because we wanted to take No. 7 out of the picture. I think we served tough, served in zones we wanted to serve to and I think our serve receive was good so we could run our offense.”