Volleyball D3 final: Monroe St. Mary C.C. goes the distance to win title

David Goricki
The Detroit News

Battle Creek — Mikayla Haut shook off a bad shot as all great players do, then made great play after great play to help No. 2 Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central upset top-ranked Schoolcraft in a two-hour, five-set marathon match for the right to lift the Division 3 state championship trophy Saturday at Kellogg Arena.

Schoolcraft and Miss Volleyball runner-up Andelyn Simkins, a 5-foot-10 outside hitter, didn’t lose a single set in the postseason heading into the final, including a sweep of four-time state champion Bronson. 

Schoolcraft won the first set, 27-25, before SMCC pulled even with a 25-21 win in the second set.

Schoolcraft (48-7-1) again grabbed the advantage by winning the third set, 25-19, before SMCC forced a fifth and deciding set with a 25-18 win in the fourth set.

Then, things got interesting when SMCC (50-2) battled back from a 10-7 deficit to pull even at 11 before Haut’s kill attempt down the line went wide. That forced SMCC coach Karen O’Brien to call a timeout and settle her team down.

When play resumed, Haut stepped up for a kill to pull her team even, then SMCC took a 13-12 lead on a miscommunication between Schoolcraft players in the back row. Haut followed that with block for a 14-12 cushion, then a block by Haut and Samantha Michael on Simkins started a wild celebration.

“We have a saying that’s called ‘Got Your Six’ which means we have everyone’s back," said Haut, who finished with a team-high 27 kills and 24 digs with a hitting percentage of .284. 

"After I made a mistake I knew at that moment my teammates had me and I needed to have them so I needed to get a kill to help us."

Junior outside hitter Anna Dean had 12 kills for SMCC, senior Payton Osborne had 24 digs and senior setter Sarah Reicker had 24 assists.

It was SMCC’s sixth state championship and first under O’Brien, who said last year’s five-set semifinal loss to Bronson was a big reason for this season’s title run.

“Really being here last year and going through a five-set loss really fueled us to come back here. I just think to have that experience of playing in that gym with those lights and the fans just helped us,” O’Brien said. “We’ve wanted this from Day 1. We knew this was our goal, it was to be here. It’s great for the seniors, the four seniors who have been here to come back and win our sixth (state championship).”

The outcome had players from both teams in tears — one out of joy and the other out of sorrow — while the sport has become O’Brien’s salvation.

“We have a saying and we have tattoos and it means to allow your faith to be stronger than your fears and last year when we were here the fear got the best of us,” O’Brien said. “The tattoo is just a reminder to have faith, not only in God, but in our players and in our coaches and in our program.

“When I was going through my third bout with ovarian cancer this year and when I was bald I got a tattoo on my head with that (saying), and that tattoo meant a lot for me at that moment. I don’t want to do anything but coach them when I’m going through treatment because it’s something to look forward to and I can leave cancer behind.”

Simkins, who will play next year at Western Michigan, had a match-high 28 kills and 23 digs with a .205 hitting percentage. Anna Schuppel contributed 13 kills and a .385 hitting percentage, junior libero Kelby Goldschmeding had 21 digs and junior setter Kayla Onken had 53 assists.

“We had so many accomplishments during the season and it was just so much fun to be able to play with this team for so long and get to states,” Simkins said. “We played our hearts out and we just couldn’t come through at the end.”

Schoolcraft coach Erin Onken was impressed with SMCC’s defense.

“They were a tremendous defensive team and I think they spent a good amount of time watching our film,” Onken said. “They knew where the holes were, and they knew who to attack on first contact and on defense. I think we did a great job of recognizing maybe what that attack plan might be and we adjusted the best that we could.

“I think today came down to a serve receive battle and I know we both made our share of mistakes on serve. I think we lost our composure a couple of times on receive and that happens all the time. I think we played a great game. If we played them again, maybe we beat them in five.”


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