A volleyball player since she was in the third grade, Livonia Churchill senior Amanda Rybak was bound and determined to make sure Wednesday night’s Class A district semifinal showdown against Livonia Stevenson wasn’t her last competitive match.
Rybak was a lightning rod in the Chargers’ three-set sweep, netting 16 digs while helping to lead Churchill into Friday’s 6 p.m. final against host Garden City. The Cougars swept Livonia Franklin 3-0 in the double-header’s night-cap.
“This feels good,” she said in the wake of her team’s emphatic 25-23, 25-14, 25-16 triumph. “We didn’t play them this season before tonight, but there’s still a strong rivalry there. Knowing that they knocked us out [of the district tournament] the past two years made us play harder.”
“Amanda played ferocious defense for us tonight,” said Churchill head coach Anna Gatt. “She was all over the floor tonight.”
Lauren St. Pierre was also a ball hawk on defense for the Chargers as she picked up 28 digs.
First-year Stevenson coach Lindsey Grillo said she was proud of her team’s effort in the season-ending match.
“Yesterday at practice we talked about what Churchill’s tendencies were and what they try to do, but unfortunately it didn’t transfer over as well as we would have liked,” said Grillo. “But like I told the girls after the match, they played really well tonight and with a lot of energy, which is all you can ask when you’re in a do-or-die situation.
“After the match I reminded the girls about the positive things they did this year. There were a lot of things to be happy about and that’s what they have to remember.”
The two-time defending district champions Spartans started strong while vaulting to a quick 7-4 lead in the opening set. After senior Lauren Fallu rallied the Chargers with three straight service points, neither team could establish more than a three-point lead.
Stevenson trailed 21-19 before back-to-back kills by Allison Whitehead and Maura Wasserman deadlocked the score at 21-all and forced Gatt to call a regrouping time-out. Whatever she said worked as the Chargers won four of the next six points – the final one coming on a Natalie Panek kill – to win 25-23.
The second set was never close as Churchill stormed to an 8-2 lead thanks to strong play in the middle by Annie Yost and a series of unforced errors by the Spartans.
The match’s most entertaining rally came mid-way through set three when Rybak and Rayna Yetts hit the floor for spectacular point-extending digs to set up a Panek kill to put the Chargers ahead 15-8.
Stevenson closed to within 16-12 on one point, but never threatened thereafter.
“Our saying is, ‘Do it for the patch’, because you get a patch if you win the district and this group has never won one,” said Rybak. “We have to keep working hard and playing good defense like we did tonight.”
Panek knocked down a team-high 12 kills for the Chargers, who haven’t won a district title since 2011. Yetts added 17 assists, 15 digs and 10 kills.
“I liked the way we came out tonight and played with a lot of confidence,” said Gatt. “Any time you play a city rival like we were tonight, you have to play with confidence. Stevenson came out and played very well. They wanted it.”
Whitehead and Arryn Dochenetz led the Spartans with eight kills each. Wasserman chipped in with four. Carmen Distler also sparkled for Stevenson, contributing 16 assists and two aces. Laura Coleman and Emily Ehreheart combined for eight assists.
Defensive standouts for Stevenson were Dochenetz (14 digs), Allie Strautz (nine digs) and Brittney VanHorn (eight digs.)