BATTLE CREEK -- Three is the magin number in several ways for O’Neill St. Mary’s, the top-ranked team in Class D2, and a three-set winner--25-14, 25-22, 25-14--over Wynot in its distict final here.
The Cardinals, now 29-2 on the season, return to the state volleyball tournament in pursuit of a third-straight championship after defeating the No. 7-ranked Blue Devils.
St. Mary’s won Class D1 the past two years--winning last season under the direction of coach McKenzie Connot, her first as head coach of the Cardinals--and are in the D2 tournament this season for the first time this year.
An impressive aspect of the accomplishment is that, although her squad needed just three sets to win Thursday night’s final over the Blue Devils, Connot didn’t feel that her team played up to its potential.
“Actually, tonight was terrible; that wasn’t a good show at all. Our talking wasn’t there, and there were just too many errors. We had been playing better than that. I think we’ll be fine; they’ll remember what our main goal is,” she said. “Last year at the state tournament we were able to go just three sets with all the teams there. This year I think it’ll be tougher, and I think mentally the girls are prepared. We’ve gone more than three sets with some teams lately, so we’re ready for that.”
In the first set St. Mary’s offense literally came out swinging, building an eight-point lead at 16-8 on Emily Pongratz’ kill, then turned back a Blue Devils’ rally of three straight points by scoring four-of-the-next-five points on a block by Riley Sibbel, another kill by Pongratz, a tip placement by Taylor Colman and an ace serve by Sibbel en route to the 25-14 win.
Wynot stayed with the Cardinals early in the second set, leading from 7-6 until St. Mary’s scored on a block and six kills--four by Sibbel--to pry the lead away at 21-20.
The Blue Devils produced two ties on a pair of kills by Skylar Arkfeld, but St. Mary’s closed out the 25-22 set victory on plays by Colman who set up Logan Connot and Pongratz for kills on both sides of a block of her own.
Wynot led in the final set until the Cardinals forged a tie at 9-9, then pulled away with the help of three kills by Sydney Hupp and three more by Sibbel. Connot and Colman, whose two well-placed tips found the floor in the midst of the Blue Devils’ defense, figured in the last four offensive scores by St. Mary’s, with Connot’s block finishing the set and the match at 25-14.
Wynot, a state tournament team last year that lost in the first round, finishes its successful season with a 21-8 record.
“They are a very quick team; you hear that from everybody,” Wynot coach Tammy Wieseler said. “They don’t really have a weakness; that’s a tough thing. They’re pretty much solid all the way around. They play well; hopefully they go far at state.”
“We would have definitely had to block better if we were going to win tonight. It’s very difficult to play defense when they can attack around your block, and if your block is late they can dominate the court from anywhere. Their setter (Colman) does a great job, and she can score herself,” she said. “I have three seniors on the team--Olivia Wieseler, Sonya Hochstein, and Danielle Wieseler--who did a great job of being leaders. They display the type of leadership that is very rewarding for all of us to be a part of.”
St. Mary’s volleyball style, that Connot and her team feature, involves “quicker tempo passes and quicker offense in general.”
“Our girls are volleyball players; they ‘get’ the game very well. We work hard in transition--that’s where we beat a lot of teams,” she said. “And our block is huge. I think we block better than a lot of teams. We also have a lot of guns at the net with girls who are averaging anywhere from four to 10 kills per game. We’re able to stay out of being predictable.”
Sibbel led the Cardinals with 20 kills in the match, with Colman recording 35 set assists.
Arkfeld totaled 16 kills for Wynot. Setter Danielle Wieseler had 19 set assists.