The St. Philip volleyball team took the first step Monday toward what it hopes is another state championship.
The seven-time defending Class D state champion Fighting Tigers made quick work of visiting Martin, winning 3-0 (25-11, 25-20, 25-17) in a district opener at St. Philip High School.
“It was a good start. I thought Martin came out ready to go… but it was a good first win in the districts,” said St. Philip head coach Vicky Groat. “The tradition here is to win. These kids that are playing now were at state finals as little girls watching and hoping someday they could be on this court to play for the Tigers — to wear the red uniforms.”
The top-ranked Tigers have not lost in the district round since 1999. The program has won seven-straight Class D state championships and a state-record 18 championships overall. St. Philip’s 26 state finals appearances since 1977 are also a state record.
The Tigers believe another title shot is possible as they search for their eighth-straight state championship banner — a mark that would tie Marysville’s state record, set from 1997-2004.
“They (players) don’t want to let you down. It’s something we’ve grown on; we want to win; it’s bred into them,” said Groat, who believes pressure is big a part of being a St. Philip volleyball player. “I think there is a lot pressure. I put pressure on them — there is a lot pressure on the girls just because of the tradition that we have.”
“That’s unfortunate because they are just teenage girls — it shouldn’t be that type of pressure, but it’s there.”
Despite the sweep, Martin head coach Gavin Snyder was pleased with what he saw from his squad.
“The way they we played against that kind of team (showed our girls) can play against anyone in our conference and anyone in our region,” Snyder said. “Kudos to St. Phil — they have a great team. So, to be able to play against that kind of talent and that kind of team, I am very proud of my girls.”
St. Philip was led in the district opener by outsider hitter Sierra Hubbard-Neil with seven kills, 15 digs and two aces. Hubbard-Neil, who has verbally committed to play at Western Michigan University, is a Miss Volleyball Award finalist.
Also for the Tigers, middle hitter Emily Freybler had seven kills, six digs and an ace; middle hitter Abby McKinzie had a team-high nine kills to go with nine digs and two aces; and setter Emily Schaub had 35 assists.
St. Philip will play Calhoun Christian at 7 p.m. Wednesday night, preceded by Climax-Scotts vs. Kalamazoo Heritage Christian at 6 p.m.. The district championship is scheduled for Thursday at 6:30 p.m.