NEW BUFFALO — Michigan Lutheran and New Buffalo played four close sets in a Saturday, Nov. 3, Division 4 volleyball district championship , but it was the Titans that had the advantage in the end.
Lutheran edged the host Bison, winning 26-24, 25-20, 24-26, 2624 to win its third straight district championship and fifth in the last six seasons.
New Buffalo had puled out a five-game decision against the Titans on the same hardwood floor on Oct. 9 in a match for first place in the BCS White division.
“They were together. They picked each other up when someone was down or someone missed a serve,” said Lutheran coach Bruce Molineaux of his playes on Nov. 3. “We were moving the ball around to different players. We have quite a few that had kills. The kids worked hard.”
The Titans advanced to a Tuesday, Nov. 6, regional semifinal at Mendon against Battle Creek St. Philip, a team it fell to in last season’s regional semis.
On Saturday, Lutheran (20-16-8) and New Buffalo (17-7) played four tight sets.
The Titans won the first contest after the Bison took a 23-22 lead.
Lutheran scored the next two points before New Buffalo evened the score at 24-24, but two straight kills from Mara Rugen gave the Titans the first set win.
Rugen, a junior, led the Titans with 24 digs, 18 kills, two aces, a block and an assist.
Molineaux was pleased with Rugen’s performance, and noted the youth of the team all around.
“She’s only going to get better,” he said. “These kids are mostly juniors. We only had one senior this year on the court.”
Senior Belle Gallagher also contributed for the Titans, totaling 20 assists, nine digs, five kills and and ace. Many of Gallagher’s assists were to Rugen.
In set two, New Buffalo again fell behind, trailing 20-15 before Bison coach Kevin Labaj called a timeout.
From there New Buffalo scored five of the next seven points, but the Titans were able to hold off the late Bison run with two straight points.
Labaj said he thought his team played well, but with four close sets thought his players made a few mistakes that affected the game’s momentum.
“Serving and mental mistakes,” said Labaj, a second year coach, on the difference maker for the Bison. “A lot of those games where we lost by two to four points, those were points that we gave them.
“Whether we were in the net or just missing serves, we just weren’t our best when it came to serving today.”
The Bison rebounded with a third set win behind a strong performance from Sophia DeOliveira.
DeOliveira had five kills in the set to help the Bison win 26-24 and get back into the match. She finished with 18 kills on the night and added nine digs, an ace, an assist and a block.
“She did a phenomenal job. She was all over the court,” said Labaj of DeOliveira. “She didn’t let a ball hit the ground. She’s always trying for everything.”
Labaj also noted the play of senior middle hitter, Morgan Motycka, who finished with seven kills, seven blocks, a dig, an assist and an ace.
“She was hitting the ball good, blocking the ball good, moving around. She did a really great job today,” he said. Set four was again close, with neither team leading by more than five points.
Lutheran got up 18-13 before the Bison knotted it up at 18-18. Both teams traded points until it was 24-24 before two New Buffalo errors ended the game, giving the Titans the district crown.
The Bison graduate just three seniors. Labaj said next season should be strong for New Buffalo with many key returners and a strong incoming freshman class.
“(We had a) phenomenal season,” Labaj said. “I came into the program last year and we were 10-9, and we came into this year with high hopes. To turn around and make it to the district final, that was a huge goal for us this year, and it worked out for us.”
Michigan Lutheran reached the district title match with a 25-15, 25-20, 25-16 win over River Valley on Wednesday, Oct. 31.
Rugen had nine kills and nine digs for the Titans.
New Buffalo swept Covert in Wednesday’s other semifinal by 25-19, 25-19, 25-10 tallies.
Division 3 at Brandywine
NILES — Brandywine rolled to its second straight district title on Thursday, Nov. 1, defeating Bridgman 25-11, 25-13, 25-16.
The Bobcats advance to a loaded regional at Bronson, first scheduled to face No. 3 Schoolcraft on Tuesday, Nov. 6. win could put them against No. 2 Bronson in the regional final.
Haley Goff led Bridgman (26-187) with 13 kills and Lily Badger had 20 assists.
The Bees swept Eau Claire 25-8, 25-14, 25-12 while the Bobcats swept Bangor in Wednesday, Oct. 31, semifinals.
Haley Goff had 17 kills and 11 digs to lead the Bees over the Beavers.