BATTLE CREEK – This one was supposed to be for Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central’s Diane Tuller, who was retiring after 17 years as the team’s volleyball coach.
Her team wanted to send her off with a Class C championship in her final game today at Kellogg Arena.
Nobody told Schoolcraft, and if they did the Eagles didn’t care.
“I don’t know if it was fear or too much excitement,” said Tuller. “We just started off a little bit slow, but once they got back into it, that they had to play hard the whole time … I think they did what they needed to.
“It’s not so much the state championship that means the most to me right now, but the fact that at the beginning of the season I wasn’t sure whether this team had what it took to get there. They improved and kept working and doing everything I asked of them. They put up with me.”
Schoolcraft won the first game and had control of the second until All-Stater Cassandra Haut put her personal stamp of brilliance on the outcome, winning her second state title and sending Tuller off with a 23-25, 29-27, 25-20, 25-22 victory.
It was Tuller’s fifth title at the school.
“There’s no words to describe what it’s like to leave her with something,” said Haut. “Her last state championship and her last year coaching. For us to be the last team she gets to coach. … You’ll never find another coach like her.”
Haut had 23 kills and Skylar Iott had 15 kills and five aces for the Kestrels (45-7-2).
“They came out strong against us,” said Haut. “We had to fight our way back a lot of times. They never wanted to give up. We focused on passing a lot more in the second and being able to run our offense better and moving the ball from hitter to hitter. I think we lost focus in the first game.”
The Kestrels found a worthy opponent on the other side of the net in the Eagles.
With Shelby (7 kills) and Jayci Suseland (20 kills) banging kills all over the arena the Eagles soared to a 22-17 lead in the first game and held on to put Catholic Central in a 1-0 hole when Iott hit a kill long.
To make matters worse for the Kestrels the Eagles won the first four points of the second game, squarely putting the emphasis on Tuller’s team to respond.
Iott eventually tied the game at 14.
Marianna Douglas (17 kills) and Jayci weren’t about to fold, and helped the Eagles to a 20-17 lead with their play around the net.
A net violation and double-hit by the Eagles forged a tie at 23-all, forcing coach Erin Onken to call a time-out.
With their season on the line Haut saved the Kestrels with a block and kill to tie the match at 1-1.
Haut now was on a roll and her back-to-back blocks in the third game put the Kestrels up, 16-11.
On cue, Haut’s kill ended the third game to put the Kestresl up, 2-1.
Unfazed, the Eagles score eight of the first 10 points in the fourth game
However, Haut and sidekicks Iott and Nicole Pollzzie led the comeback, controlling the front line and getting the lead back for the Kestrels, 17-13.
Jayci led the Eagles rally and her kill regained the lead, 20-19, before Monroe rallied again.
“I thought we were going to be here and I thought we should be here,” said Onken. “I would’ve bled for my coach if it was her last game and we had a chance to do this. That’s what I asked of these guys; write a story, make it awesome and show people how good you are.”