Battle Creek – Southfield Christian had defending Division 4 state champion and top-ranked Mendon on the ropes multiple times but couldn’t close the deal in a state semifinal volleyball match Thursday afternoon at Kellogg Arena.
Mendon swept Southfield Christian in a semifinal last year, then went on to earn a dominating 25-16, 25-21, 25-14 sweep of Leland in the state championship match.
But Mendon (39-9-6) – which lost a handful of seniors from last year’s team – is finding that it’s tougher to repeat, being forced to go the distance this time around to get past No. 4 Southfield Christian, 27-25, 17-25, 19-25, 25-22, 15-13 in a marathon match that lasted more than two hours.
Christian (29-8-4) could have been the one sweeping this time around – if it would have closed the deal in the opener when it led 24-20 and couldn’t get the final point.
Christian again held a four-point lead (6-2) in the fifth and deciding set, but again couldn’t keep the momentum.
“They pretty much played the way we thought they would; you go to your strengths,” said Southfield Christian coach Mike Van Dyke of Mendon, which went time after time to its 5-foot-9 junior outside hitter Anna Smith, who had 36 kills, hitting at a .325 clip, including 11 kills in a pivotal 25-22 win in the fourth set. “Our key was to try and get Smith out of the front row without racking up too many points and then score points in the back row.
“Looking back, we did what we wanted. Our goal was to get back here. Our goal was to make it to Saturday and ended up two points short. It’s hard, but it’s still a great season.”
Mendon struggled with its serving but found a way to win.
Smith wasn’t about to have Mendon’s season end. She was also impressed with the way Southfield Christian hit.
“I didn’t want to let my seniors down, we’ve been working hard all season,” Smith said. “Their hitters put a lot more balls down, made a lot less errors and we weren’t really prepared for that. We were thinking same team as last year.”
Said Mendon defensive specialist Juliana Hagenbuch: “I think we weren’t ready for their hits. I don’t think we thought they could hit it that hard. We didn’t see that last year at all.”
Senior setter Gracie Russell had 58 assists for Mendon and Hagenbuch had 25 digs.
Senior outside hitter Emily Van Dyke had 31 kills and a .297 hitting percentage for Southfield Christian with senior outside hitter Caitlin Warnshuis contributing 25 kills and setter Rachel Stiteler 50 assists.
Mendon will play Leland Saturday at 10 a.m. for the championship in a rematch from a year ago. Leland (44-14-3) was impressive in a 25-21, 25-14, 25-15 semifinal sweep of Rudyard (35-5-3) with 5-8 junior outside hitter Tatum Kareck (13 kills, .500 hitting percentage) leading the way.
All semifinals and finals at Kellogg Arena, Battle Creek
Mendon def. Southfield Christian, 27-25, 17-25, 19-25, 25-22, 15-13
Leland def. Rudyard, 25-21, 25-14, 25-15
Final: Saturday, 10 a.m.
Lowell def. Lake Orion, 17-25, 25-19, 25-17, 25-15
Farmington Hills Mercy def. Ann Arbor Skyline, 25-13, 25-15, 25-15
Final: Saturday, 2 p.m.
Saginaw Valley Lutheran (40-8-5) vs. Schoolcraft (47-6-1), noon
Monroe St. Mary CC (48-2) vs. Beaverton (46-1-1), 2 p.m.
Final: Saturday, noon
Pontiac Notre Dame Prep (48-10-2) vs. Lake Odessa Lakewood (39-12), 4:30 p.m.
Kingsley (58-7-3) vs. Grand Rapids Christian (44-3), 6:30 p.m.
Final: Saturday, 4 p.m.