REESE — Deficits don’t seem to matter to Unionville-Sebewaing Area’s volleyball squad, which is now one win away from pulling off a well-deserved and hard-working triple crown.
The Greater Thumb West and district champion Patriots were forced to play from behind once again here Tuesday night in their Class C regional semifinal match against Sanford-Meridian. But like they did in the district finals against Bad Axe, the Patriots shook off a lackluster start en route to a 16-25, 25-15, 25-15, 25-22 victory over the Mustangs.
With the win, the 41-4-5 Patriots move on to Thursday’s regional championship match against 38-17-3 Saginaw Valley Lutheran — a winner over Marlette in the other semifinal showdown.
“I don’t have an explanation about our start,” said USA coach Teresa Rose. “We were just flat and there was no real talking out there.
“Sometimes, they don’t trust each other on the court. It’s sometimes like, ‘You take it... No, you take it...’ But I am proud of the way they came back and battled.”
The difference between Game 1 and Games 2-4 was the net play from the USA front row. The Patriots’ frontliners were outplayed by their Sanford-Meridian counterparts early on. But a few adjustments at the net resulted in plenty of USA blocks for points, as well as several Mustang errors, later in the match.
“We knew they had a better outside than middle,” Rose explained. “When you take the crosscourt away, (their hitters) were going to go (down the) line. We had a hard time early on getting over there and stopping that. We started cheating a little bit toward the line, and we also did a good job blocking.”
Calie Valentine did much of the work in the back row, netting 28 digs to go along with 34 receptions.
Up front, Maddy Payton led the Patriots in kills with 17, along with 13 digs, 15 receptions and seven points. Ashlyn VanHoost added 16 digs, 11 points, 14 receptions and four aces while Mackenzie Treiber had 12 kills, six digs and nine receptions, Sami Eisengruber 11 points and seven kills, and Chelsey Bitzer 33 assists, 11 points and nine digs.
After their sluggish start in Game 1, the Patriots were never really threatened in Games 2 and 3. USA led 7-0, 10-2 and 18-9 in Game 2; USA jumped out to leads of 4-0, 12-2 and 15-5 in Game 3.
The Mustangs rallied a bit in Game 4. In fact, they led 7-2, 9-4, 17-11 and 22-19 before USA made its comeback. VanHoost served the game’s final six points, including an ace to finish off the match. Eisengruber and Payton chipped in kills in the final rally.
Now, the Patriots are looking to at least duplicate their state tournament run in 2008 when they advanced all the way to the state semifinals.
USA and Valley Lutheran played early in the season at a tournament at Carrollton. The teams split their match.
“They are a very good team,” Rose said. “We can’t come out like we did tonight against them. It’s going to be a tough match.”
Thursday’s winner moves on to the state quarterfinals next Tuesday at St. Louis against the Ravenna regional winner.
CLASS D at BCAS
BAY CITY — It’s Eagles vs. Eagles, North vs. South, champion vs. champion.
At 7 p.m. on Thursday at Bay City All Saints, the Class D regional volleyball final will feature both champions from the North Central Thumb League in Caseville (North) and Deckerville (South).
On Tuesday, both teams took care of business by sweeping their respective opponents.
In the first semifinal, Caseville had an easy time with Genesee Christian (25-19, 25-17, 25-18) while Deckerville topped Saginaw Michigan Lutheran Seminary (25-14, 25-23, 25-22).
Caseville improved to 31-4-2 with the win. It hasn’t loss since falling to Deckerville on Sept. 24 at the Carsonville-Port Sanilac Invitational (25-21, 25-21).
The teams began the season on Sept. 8 and Deckerville again came away with the victory (25-17, 25-16, 18-25, 25-23).
A few photos from the USA-Meridian match