Defending Division 4 volleyball state champion Mendon outlasted Southfield Christian in five sets to open MHSAA semifinal play Thursday at the Kellogg Arena in Battle Creek. The Hornets won 27-25, 17-25, 19-25, 25-22, 15-13, needing to rally from four point holes in both the first and fifth set wins.
Junior Anna Smith was a force offensively, racking up 36 kills, including the clincher. It was a much tighter affair than their sweep against the Eagles in 2018’s semi. But the Hornets, whose team song this year was “I Will Survive,” did survive an impressive effort from Southfield Christian.
The Eagles led 23-19 in the first set, but Mendon rallied to eventually tie it at 24-24 and later take the frame at 27-25. Southfield bounced back, leading almost exclusively with a 25-17 second set.
In the third, the Eagles opened with a 13-9 lead. The Hornets got back within one at 15-14, but a 10-5 close gave Southfield Christian a 25-19 win and 2-1 lead overall. It was the first time all postseason Mendon had dropped two sets in a match.
The fourth frame was the tightest of the match with five lead changes and no lead larger than three points for either team. The Eagles were up 20-19, but Mendon rallied yet again to take it 25-22.
Between sets, their team song “I Will Survive” began to play and all of the energy favored the Hornets with many of the players dancing enthusiastically before the fifth started. But the dancing soon stopped as Southfield Christian raced out to a 6-2 lead to begin the fifth. Even worse, setter Gracie Russell went down with an injury after getting kneed in the back by a teammate.
But Russell gutted it out and so did her Hornets, going on a 6-1 run to claim the lead for good at 8-7. Smith delivered the final kill at 15-13 to win the semifinal rematch and send Mendon to Saturday’s championship.
Southfield Christian finishes at 29-8-4 and graduates seniors Hayley Ellington, Emily Van Dyke, Caitlyn Warnshuis, Jada Manns, Rachel Stiteler, and Allison Sullivan. Van Dyke tallied 31 kills and 16 digs. Warnshuis had 25 kills and 24 digs.
Behind Anna Smith’s 36 kills was Taylor Heitkamp with 13 and Alexis Ames with seven for Mendon. Juliana Hagenbuch topped the defense with 25 digs, followed by Smith with 12. Russell had 58 assists.
Mendon improves to 39-9-6 and will have a chance to defend their state title Saturday morning at 10 a.m. It will be the fifth championship appearance for the Hornets, who are 4-0 in volleyball championships. Listen live Saturday at 10 a.m. via JoeInsider.com to the Division 4 championship as Mendon plays Leland in a rematch of last season’s final.
Photos by Nicci Plummer