BATTLE CREEK — You can’t coach height; you can only try to come up with creative ways to attack it. That’s what Mendon volleyball coach Kathy Trenary attempted to do on the fly Friday at the Class C stat semifinals. It wasn’t enough to overcome a physical mismatch with Grand Rapids Covenant Christian, which finished off the top-ranked Hornets in three games.
Afterwards, Trenary admitted that perhaps only a slingshot would have changed the outcome.
“Those kids were tall,” she said of the Chargers, which won 25-14, 21-25, 25-14, 25-20. “They beat us earlier in the year and we didn’t play well at all. We just thought things would be different. They’re still just very tall. People say they’re slow; they move well. It was like trying to slay a giant because they were so big.”
Mendon senior hitter Brooke Howard collected a match-high 20 kills, but the Hornets offense was otherwise stymied by a towering Chargers front row anchored by Alyssa Scholten, who is listed at 6-foot-2, but played more like 6-7. Scholten stuffed Mendon six times on her own and added three assisted blocks.
“We had one heckuva run,” Howard said. “I wanted to make it one step farther, but unfortunately we weren’t able. Having the support that our whole community has had behind us was absolutely phenomenal and we give them so much credit for being there for us. Making it to the final four has just been great.”
Beal City, which swept Auburn Hills Oakland Christian in the other semifinal match, will have its hands full in Saturday’s finals.
“We came out like we normally do — a little slow,” Mendon junior Jordan VanOss said of the first-set loss against Covenant (46-9). “It usually takes us a while to get into it and today we just couldn’t get into it. They’re really good and they have a huge blocker and it was really hard to hit against her; she’s amazing.
“We tried to tip over the block and tried to tip corners. They’re just a great defensive team and they got everything up. We couldn’t get balls to the floor when we needed to. It’s frustrating. You have to know how to put points down and we just couldn’t do it. They dug everything and did a great job. You can’t take that away from them.”
Howard also led the Hornets (49-8-2) with 10 digs and added two aces. VanOss finished with nine kills, two aces and seven digs. Senior Danielle Parsons provided a boost at the service line several times, ending the day with four aces and five digs.
“She had some big ones,” Trenary said. “She comes up there and serves some tough ones. She did that against Schoolcraft, too [in the quarterfinals].”
Freshman Megan Leighton registered two kills and a block assist, senior Alexis Russell posted eight kills, two digs and four assisted blocks, senior setter Loryn Baughman had 33 assists and nine digs, freshman Kaley Smith chipped in six digs, senior Cierra Furlong added a dig and five block assists and junior libero Jackie Friel led the team with 16 digs.
It looked like Mendon wasn’t going to be able to shake off the first-set loss early in the second game, when the Chargers got out to a 5-1 advantage. The Hornets trailed for most of the set until taking a 19-18 lead. Some strong serving down the stretch helped even up the match.
Things started to unravel for Mendon, which also made it to the state semifinals last season (Class D) in the third game.
“I think we were ready to go,” Trenary said. “We just came back and started doing the same thing we did in the third game that we did in the first game. We forgot how we won that second game. We didn’t figure that out soon enough.”
And Covenant’s Cailey DeJong, Scholten and Shelby Lubbers kept on firing, combining for 40 kills.
“I’m really proud; I don’t think they quit,” Trenary said. “They kept on going as much as they could. We kept on trying things and trying to do things. You could tell it was kind of in their heads because there were balls they’d that they would just pivot around and call out instead of moving and making that call. That means they were caught up in thought and stuff.”
The five outgoing seniors certainly set the bar high for the program, and it’s a group Trenary and the rest of the team will certainly miss.
“These seniors, we’ve had a great, fun two years,” Trenary said. “The whole team working hard to get back and here and getting back here and wanting to play better. We played better; we just came up against a better team, a taller team, and couldn’t quite figure out quickly enough how to beat them.
“The five of them … they have been working all year since June. They just have always been a solid unit of smart girls with a lot of physical ability. They’ve always been competitive from the time I had them in seventh grade in Science, and always wanted to be the best. Even though we lost today, they certainly are the best. They didn’t quit.”
VanOss said the rest of them desperately wanted to send the seniors to the finals.
“I love these seniors,” she said. “They’re my family and my best fiends. We all really wanted to do this for them. We worked really hard to get here. Getting bumped up [to Class C] was tough, but getting to this point was amazing. We’re all really proud of each other.”