SEBEWAING — For the third time this season, Unionville-Sebewaing Area and Bad Axe hooked up here Thursday night in a showdown between two of the area’s top volleyball squads.
And for the third time this season, the Patriots came away victors.
This time, the matchup was for the top spot in the Greater Thumb West standings. USA used its size advantage at the net, coming back from a shaky Game 2 en route to a hard-fought 25-20, 23-25, 25-19, 25-21 victory over the Hatchets.
With the win, USA takes over first place in the GTW at 5-0; Bad Axe falls to 4-1 in league play.
After splitting the first two games, USA trailed 5-0 and 7-2 in Game 3 before turning on the jets and capturing Games 3 and 4.
“We were up and down — and we were really flat in Game 2,” said USA coach Teresa Rose. “Coming back from being down 7-2 in Game 3... We pushed and turned it up a bit. They did a good job coming back in that game.”
This is already the third time USA has beaten Bad Axe this season, grabbing wins at tournaments earlier this year.
But Rose said Bad Axe was a much different team than in the prior meetings.
“Bad Axe has really stepped up their game,” she said. “They were like a whole new team out there compared to the last two times we played them.”
Bad Axe coach Mindy Breault was happy with her team’s effort, but knows the Hatchets must be more consistent at the net, as well as on defense.
“We just had way too many unforced errors,” she said. “I thought we battled really tough, but then we’d get to a point where we would make a few mental mistakes and it kind of snowballed.
“USA is a very good team with a lot of good hitters, but I think we can play with them. We just need to get rid of the unforced errors.”
USA’s front four of Mackenzie Treiber, Maddy Payton, Sami Eisengruber and Miranda Fuerst combined for 51 kills, with Fuerst leading the way with 19. Eisengruber added 15 while Payton had nine and Treiber notched eight.
Breault thought USA’s size advantage played a key role in the outcome.
“Their size does pose some problems,” she said. “You are always aware of where their blockers are. And you have to move the ball around at the net. You just can’t continue to set one place or one person. You have to move to make their blockers move.”
USA turned its early five-point deficit in Game 3 into a 15-11 edge at the midway point. Bad Axe got as close as 20-17, but kills from Fuerst and Treiber, a pair of critical digs from USA libero Calie Valentine, and a service reception error from the Hatchets on game point gave the Patriots a 2-1 lead.
Game 4 saw the Hatchets take a 12-11 lead, but they couldn’t hold on. USA went up 19-18 and 22-20 before closing it out with two kills from Payton and a match-winner from Eisengruber.
Valentine led a sound defensive effort for the Patriots with 37 digs and 30 serve receptions. Ashlyn VanHoost added 20 digs and 21 receptions while Treiber chipped in eight receptions, Eisengruber 13 points and three aces, Fuerst four blocks, Payton 14 points, 34 digs and 15 receptions, Chelsey Bitzer 34 assists, 12 points and seven aces, and Erika Fritz 15 assists and eight points.
USA, rated No. 8 in the latest Class C state poll, is 24-1-3 overall.
Rose isn’t surprised at her team’s early-season success, though she’s cautious about pronouncing her team the GTW’s best just yet.
“I thought we would be very competitive this year because we have all returning players,” she said. “Every rotation is pretty strong for us and we have a lot of good hitters.
“It’s nice to be 5-0 in the league, but we have a long way to go.”
Bad Axe, 16-5-3 overall, had Emily Sisco with 13 kills, Alyssa Kociba with 24 assists and Brooke Robarge with five aces.
The Michigan High School Athletic Association was videotaping the match for a future broadcast.
See its website for details.
Here are a couple of photos...