Rolling into Coldwater with plenty of swagger, the Three Rivers volleyball team recovered from a second-set letdown Saturday for a 3-1 victory over the host Cardinals in a Class B district finals match.
The Wildcats won the first game, 25-22, and Coldwater clawed back for its own 25-22 victory in the second set. Then a cornrowed Three Rivers squad dialed up two dominant games, 25-13, 25-18, to hoist the mitten-shaped plaque.
As a result, Three Rivers (44-7-6) faces nemesis Berrien Springs in the regional semifinals Tuesday in Plainwell. The programs squared off three times earlier this season, with the Wildcats winning two of the matches.
With senior middle hitter Teagan Reeves far from 100 percent and sporting several braces on a left leg she injured a week earlier in the Wolverine Conference title game, and classmate Carly Nichols having missed plenty of practice time due to illness, the Wildcats didn’t miss a beat in a hostile environment.
“We’ve been in bad situations so many times when the pressure’s on us and these kids just kind of … it doesn’t really faze them,” Three Rivers coach Brandy Stalhood said. “We rose to the occasion Wednesday night; we didn’t have Teagan in. Carly played middle; she hasn’t played middle for us in almost two years. She stepped right in and did a great job.
“Megan Southland, a sophomore, comes in and plays for us and does a great job for us. Carly gets kind of sick there at the end of the game Wednesday night. Then it’s kind of, ‘Well, what are we going to do?’ She didn’t practice with us a whole lot this week. We just kind of saved her. Teagan’s been out all week. It’s a talented group and they played.”
The Wildcats’ struggles on both ends of the serve in the second set were short-lived, and they closed out the third game with ease before jumping out to a 16-5 lead in the fourth game. Coldwater wasn’t ready to surrender and made the final game close.
Stalhood had a good feeling en route to Coldwater.
“I’m always kind of nervous,” she said. “Riding in on the bus and seeing how excited they were and how pumped they were, I really didn’t have much of a doubt that we were going to pull it out.
“When this group decides it’s going to do something, we do it. We were scrappy on defense, not very many tips … we blocked well. I had a lot of kids step up and play defense. Morgan Roderick, we set her a lot tonight, she did a great job.”
Nichols led the team with 18 kills, eight blocks and two aces. Hannah Landis added 12 kills, two aces, three blocks and 14 digs. Roderick registered seven kills and seven blocks, Kalie Cole finished with 43 assists and 12 digs, Taylor Schultz chipped in three blocks and 16 digs and Molly Hawkins had 10 digs and an ace.
Reeves, who suffered sprains to her knee, ankle and Achilles, tallied five kills in limited action. Simply being in the lineup was a clear confidence boost for the Wildcats.
“Teagan is a presence,” Stalhood said. “When she stepped on, obviously you could see it on the court — everybody was just excited to see her. We did okay on Wednesday night without her. She’s key to our offense, obviously. To have her is huge, but I didn’t want to stress her too much. We talked if you’re going to go, it’s going to be here and there.”
Reeves was cleared late Saturday morning after seeking a second medical opinion. She visited veteran Sturgis athletic trainer Jim Lioy, who gave the future Western Michigan University player the green light.
When Reeves rested, Nichols took over in the middle.
“Carly dominated in the middle,” Stalhood said. “For her being out of position, she did a great job. Hannah [Landis] hit well. In a couple spots I put Teagan in and she got us a couple points there. Everybody just kind of rose.”