After failing to get out of the first round of districts in the MHSAA state playoffs last season, the DeWitt Panthers came back this fall motivated for the postseason.
They played like it on Tuesday.
The Panthers moved on to the championship match of Group 1 of the CAAC Cup with a three-game victory over Portland.
“I’ve got a good group of seniors,” DeWitt coach Christy Drayton said. “I’ve got five seniors that were disappointed last year in our first-round loss in districts and they’re coming back and they’re ready to do something. They’re ready to win some kind of trophy. I’ve got five seniors and they want to get there.”
One is middle hitter Kaylee Schmitt, who dominated the Raiders with 18 kills and 12 blocks.
Schmitt controlled the net, unfurling her tall frame for one put away after another and moving side to side to stuff Portland kill attempts while barely having to leave her feet.
“She’s been our go-to girl all year,” Drayton said of Schmitt. “When I’ve asked her to put a ball down, she puts a ball down for us and she’s did an amazing job tonight. I was so proud of her. When they started getting touches, she moved and went another direction and she really, really came through for us tonight.”
After the Panthers (33-10-1) won 25-16 and 25-17 in the first two games, the two sides were tied at nine in the third game when Schmitt took over.
A kill by the senior put DeWitt up 11-10 and two blocks by Schmitt increased the lead to 13-10.
Schmitt had five more kills the rest of the way, including one to stop four straight Portland points and give the Panthers a 24-16 lead as DeWitt finished off a 25-16 victory in the third game.
DeWitt will face Lakewood in the Group 1 final on Thursday, hoping to head into district play on a high note.
“It’s going to get us really ready for this district run,” Schmitt said. “It’s better to play harder teams in this CAAC Cup so that we can get ready for districts. If we play lesser teams, that doesn’t really get us better.”
“It’s excellent for the district round. It’s great to play people like Portland, who is a great team, we’ll play either Lakewood or Mason on Thursday and they’re both excellent,” Drayton said before learning who the Panthers would play in the next round. “Before the district we love playing competition and it’s excellent preparation.”
Senior Nicole Green had 25 assists for Portland (26-19-3) while senior Mae Johnson had 11 kills.