BELLEVUE – The Athens volleybal team advanced to the ‘Sweet 16’ with a win on Tuesday night at Bellevue High School.
Shortly after that regional semifinal match, the St. Philip volleyball team was eliminated in the state tournament – marking the first time in 16 years the Fighting Tigers won’t make an appearance in the state finals.
Athens punched its ticket to Thursday’s regional final with a 3-0 (25-12, 25-27, 25-23 win over St. Joseph Michigan Lutheran.
“We have goals that we do every day at practice, and yesterday it was our team goals, and a lot of us wrote teamwork, have heart and want to win, and that’s what it took,” said Athens senior libero Aubrey Cole. “I’m just excited that I’m a part of it. It’s my senior year, so I’m just pushing and hoping we can go all the way. I just want to win state or just at least go to state.”
Cole led a stellar defensive effort by Athens (27-18-8) with 34 digs to go with two aces. Senior setter Josie Lamson had 36 assists, 16 digs and four aces; senior outside hitter Tayler Eutsey had 19 kills and 19 digs; senior outside hitter Rachel Nobach had 15 kills and 31 digs; senior middle hitter Lexi Goss had five kills, seven digs and four blocks and junior defensive specialist Skyla Reynolds had five digs.
“Our defense is I think what held us together tonight,” said Athens coach Jacy Nay. “We’re always strong defensively in serve-receive, but I think that’s what pulled us through to the end.”
Honorable mention St. Philip was eliminated by No. 2-ranked Mendon in three games (25-18, 25-14, 25-18). The Hornets (41-8-6) advance to face the Indians in Thursday’s regional final at Bellevue High School, beginning at 7 p.m.
In 2015, St. Philip eliminated Mendon in the state quarterfinal round on its way to its unprecidented 15th consecutive state semifinal and its 15th straight state finals appearance.
“I feel bad for the seniors. There is no tomorrow for them,” said St. Philip coach Vicky Groat. :As a coach, you want to get to the end and you want to be at the last possible day of your season playing and it’s been a long time since we haven’t been there, but we knew that day would come sometime.”
Mendon was led by senior libero Kaley Smith – who is committed to Western Michigan – with 27 digs. Senior outside hitter Megann Leighton had 21 kills and two blocks; freshman outside hitter Hannah Duchene had 10 kills and three aces and senior setter Cassie Plummer had 34 assists.
“All the respect for St. Phil,” said Mendon coach Bill Trenary. “Any time you can notch a win anywhere against St. Phil is great. It’s a testament to how hard our players have had to work and how long we’ve been working. It’s been a 2-3-4 year project to finally chase that program and get them in a game when it counts.”
St. Philip (34-22-7) was led by senior Kameron Haley with 10 kills and nine digs; sophomore Maya Segovia and junior Kirstin Finnila had five kills apiece; sophomore Alex Pessetti had eight digs; freshman Abby Austin had 15 assists and senior Taylor Pessetti had 11 assists.
“I don’t think we played our finest, but give all the credit to Mendon,” Groat said. “They are an amazing team and they have the tradition too in the volleyball world and they came ready to go.”
Nick Buckley can be reached at email@example.com or 269-966-0652. Follow him on Twitter:@NickJBuckley