Schoolcraft and St. Mary Catholic Central faced off in one of the most intense sporting events you’ll ever see in Saturday’s Division 3 volleyball state championship at the Kellogg Arena in Battle Creek. After two hours, 16 lead changes, and 36 tied scores, the Kestrels emerged victorious in five sets: 25-27, 25-21, 19-25, 25-18, 15-12.
“I think that matchup goes more sets than three every single time,” said Eagles head coach Erin Onken. “If we played them again, maybe we beat them in five. I thought we came out ready to battle.”
“It could have been anyone really who won the game, it just came down to how many errors we had on each team,” said Miss Volleyball finalist Andelyn Simkins.
It was a rematch of the 2014 state championship and a fitting matchup with the Eagles ranked first and the Kestrels second in the final polls. St. Mary secured their sixth volleyball title in nine finals appearances. Schoolcraft is now 1-2 in state finals with a 2008 win over Calumet, plus the 2014 defeat to the Kestrels.
“They were a tremendous defensive team,” coach Onken noted. “We adjusted as best as we could. I think today came down to a serve, serve receive battle.”
Blocking also played a key role with St. Mary winning 11-5 on team blocks, including a double-block by Sam Michael and Abbie Costlow for the final point of the match.
“We got a lot of touches on balls, a lot of kill blocks,” said St. Mary’s Karen O’Brien, who won her first title as head coach. “It made them have to rethink about what kind of shot that they wanted to hit.”
Schoolcraft came out hot with an early seven-point lead in the first set, but the Kestrels rallied to tie it up at 22-22. The Eagles had set-point tries denied at 24-23 and 25-24, then broke through at 27-25 on a Simkins kill.
The second had four lead changes, but Schoolcraft never was up by more than one as St. Mary largely controlled it for the 25-21 win. Set three was similar but switched in favor of the Eagles for the 25-19 tally. The Kestrels then never trailed in the fourth with a 25-18 result to force a decisive fifth set.
Despite being the shortest of the sets, it had the most lead changes with five of the game’s 16 switches. Schoolcraft went up 10-7 after a Madi Ballett ace, but St. Mary rattled off a 4-0 run for an 11-10 lead.
The Eagles grabbed the next two for a 12-11 advantage, but that would be their final lead of the match. Mikayla Haut tied it on her team-high 27th kill, followed by a Kestrel ace from Costlow for the lead. Blocks on the next two points secured the state title for St. Mary.
“Being here last year and going through a five set loss (in the semifinal to Bronson) really fueled us to come back here,” said O’Brien. “To have that experience of playing in that gym with those lights and the fans helped us.”
Haut and Payton Osborne each led the Kestrel defense with 24 digs apiece. Anna Dean was second in kills with 12, followed by Costlow’s nine. St. Mary finishes at 50-2 and four seniors finish as champions; Sam Michael, Payton Osborne, Sarah Reicker, and Grace Tylutki.
Simkins led the Eagles in both kills (28) and digs (23). Anna Schuppel was second offensively with 13 kills and Maggie Morris had nine. Kelby Goldschmeding tallied 21 digs and Kayla Onken had 53 assists and 15 digs.
Schoolcraft finishes at 48-7-1 and graduates four seniors; Andelyn Simkins, Madi Ballett, Dani Warnaar, and Savannah McDonald.
“We’re just sad that it’s over,” said Simkins. “It was so much fun to be able to play with this team for so long and take this ride.”
“We’re all just really grateful for the experience,” said Kayla Onken.
“We’re really proud of what we accomplished all throughout the season, but we’re just sad with the outcome,” said Ballett. “But, we’re just really grateful to have each other, because we all love each other so much and we’re still here for each other.”
“I’m sad that I’m not going to be able to play with these two again,” added Kayla Onken, answering questions from media alongside Simkins and Ballett.