For the 12th straight season, the St. Philip volleyball team is in the Final Four.
The Class D top-ranked Tigers clinched a spot in the state semifinals with a three-set (25-8, 25-11, 25-10) victory over fourth-ranked Leland on Tuesday.
Six-time reigning state champion St. Philip will play fifth-ranked Onaway on Friday at Kellogg Arena, beginning at 2 p.m.
“It means so much,” said St. Philip senior Amanda McKinzie, who was crowned the state’s Miss Volleyball on Monday. “I’m with my friends and I love everyone on the team. It’s just so exciting that we made it here finally after this great season, and hopefully we can get two more.”
The Tigers’ 2012 campaign has been great so far, as Tuesday’s victory put their record at 72-2-1, setting the single-season school record for wins.
“Seventy-one wins is pretty cool. I’m excited about that, but that’s not what we want to do,” said St. Philip head coach Vicky Groat “We want to win a title. We’ll concentrate on Friday’s match and hopefully go for 72.”
The Tigers have now made the Final Four in 34 out of 38 seasons since the state tournament began in 1976. St. Philip has yet to lose in the quarterfinal round.
St. Philip junior Sierra Hubbard Neil opened Game 1 of the quarterfinal with the first of her six aces and the Tigers never looked back.
“We talked about the road, a lot of good teams out there, and Leland is one of the three in our way,” Groat said. “They came out and served the ball well, it started out with Sierra’s ace and they just rolled. … They served tough and took them out of their offense. We started 8-1 and set the tone early.”
Leland, which finished the season 44-11-1 and ranked fourth in the state, only saw a one-point lead in the early stages of Game 2.
“They just served us off the court,” said Leland head coach Laurie Glass. “Flat out, we couldn’t pass the ball. And if you are going to give a team that good free balls, you are going to be in trouble. I thought we could have passed better than we did, but that’s a credit to the serving of St. Phil.”
McKinzie led the way for the Tigers with 14 kills and six digs.
“Miss Volleyball did quite well tonight,” said Groat. “I was a little worried how focused she would have been, but she got the award and you wouldn’t know it. She’s just a typical teenage girl who happens to be an excellent volleyball player.”
Hubbard Neil had 10 kills and four digs to go with her six aces. She, like the rest of her teammates, wasn’t aware they had set the benchmark for wins at the school. “That’s exciting because we know we’re doing well,” she said. “And if we keep winning games were going to keep breaking records.”
St. Philip’s Lenae Lesiow had 30 assists and nine digs; Casey Gallagher had five kills; Samantha Ellis had four kills; and Natalie Gallagher had nine digs.
The Class D state title match is 10 a.m. Saturday.