|It felt like a Regional Championship Match, but it was just the kick-off of the TVC Conference play. The hot, muggy gym would not be confused with the early November weather that Regionals brings, the conditioning we’ve put in paid off tonight. Team41 lost a heartbreaker in the fifth set, but were still firing away as if they had just started.The Eagles fought hard, and overcame a deficit built on just a few more errors than a Team can afford against North Branch. The Eagles dug a small hole, going down 0-2 dropping sets by the scores of 23-25, and 22-25. Early in the match North Branch’s setter was dumping aggressively to the corners, and it took a little time to adjust. Laura Wilson came out swinging, but by the time we reached the end of set #2, our blockers Melissa Schoenow, Maddie Walter, Lindsey Mertz and Sydney Bronner had figured out how to channel her attacks to our libero, Katie DeGrace, but they also blocked her several times. In the first set, we got down 17-22, and that’s not a score you typically come back from to win, but we managed to tie it up at 23. That’s when we knew we were for real.
In set #3 we put it all together, despite a officiating error which contributed to a lengthy delay. The Eagles traded points and were down 18-19 when Melissa Schoenow provided a huge block to tie the score. At 22-22 North Branch went to Wilson again, and Sydney Bronner and Maddie Walter combined for a monster roof, giving us the lead at 23-22. Set #4 started off all Eagles, where we jumped to a 15-8 lead. North Branch hasn’t won multiple state championships by giving up, they clawed back to tie, then take the lead at 16-15. Melissa Schoenow hit a monster slide attack, on the right side, to tie the game at 16, and we were back at it. Sydney Bronner put us up 22-20 on a slide of her own, bouncing the ball off the floor, and over the heads of the back row defenders. All night North Branch’s setter had success dumping the ball over, but Melissa Schoenow tracked her and roofed her dump attempt, giving us the lead 23-20. After a long scramble play, where Katie DeGrace dug the ball wide, Lindsey Mertz scrambled and put up a set for Kelsey Baarck, who was in the back row. Kelsey pummeled the ball past the North Branch Block, and we had evened the match at 2-2. The fifth set is typically a race to 10, and we got behind 6-11, with numerous long rallies and awesome effort plays. The battle was over, the Eagles dropping the tie breaker set 10-15.
Mary and I acknowledge that our Team made another incremental step forward, having addressed a number of issues we’ve been working on diligently. We minimized our service errors, and hitting errors, and several players had terrific or career days. Kelsey Baarck is the player of the game, having addressed all of the issues that we’ve tasked her with. Kelsey had 14 kills (.282 avg), 14 digs, and was perfect on serve receive 15-0, and served 25 times with ZERO errors and one ACE. This is an awesome physical and mental performance for Baarck, she showed leadership in every possible way tonight, and we are proud of her.
Sydney Bronner had a career day hitting, seemingly unstoppable most of the night, amassing 14 kills (.444 avg) and 4 blocks. Syd’s enthusiasm helped carry the team through the nearly 3 grueling hours. Melissa Schoenow had 6 kills (.118 avg) but many were timely, and her 6 blocks (4 solo and 2 assisted) anchored our defense. Shelby Scharrer contributed two kills and a dig and had no serving errors. Claire Carter was solid all night on defense, where she scooped up 10 digs, and she lead the team with 3 aces and no service errors in 17 attempts….many of them with an enthusiastic North Branch student section breathing down her neck. Katie DeGrace lead the team with 16 digs and 86% serve receive, and had to step out briefly in game 4 for near heat exhaustion. Maddie Walter collected two blocks and one kill on the night, and her development as a net player is ahead of schedule. She will figure prominently in our play as we make our way through the season.
Our expert on-site trainer, Julie Felten, closely monitored both teams all night, and assured that we all had more than enough liquids, and provided ice towels to keep the kids safe.
Kristin Kueffner posted 5 digs on the night and passed serve at 88%. Angie Ritter added 2 digs and passed serve at 86%. Lindsey Mertz had the best effort by a Frankenmuth freshman in recent memory posting 37 assists (.474 avg) and only one error in 77 attempts. Lindsey also grabbed 2 digs, 1 block and posted one ACE on 10 attempts with ZERO serving errors. Not only did Lindsey have to perform physically, playing all five sets, with no rest, but she also had to run the offense, communicating with hitters and passers. To think that a freshman can handle the responsibility and pressure to produce is quite astounding. Lindsey will be as humble after reading the praise as she was before it.
There is no question that North Branch is a fine team, but I feel that we’ve proven to ourselves that we are in the mix. We can play with anyone we line up against, and it’s Coach Mary and my objective to create a disciplined approach to playing every day, so that it will be there in the big matches, like tonight. Our record is now 13-6-2 with all of our losses to very good teams. We are ready to travel to Bay City on Saturday and look forward to a potential rematch with St. Louis.