By Maxwell Harden
For the News
THREE OAKS – After losing last season’s Division 4 district title match to Michigan Lutheran in five sets, New Buffalo was determined to not let it happen again.
The Bison swept the Titans 25-22, 25-21, 25-16 to clinch a Division 4 championship Thursday, Nov. 7, at River Valley.
“It feels good, it hasn’t been done in a long time and I’m glad to be a part of it,” said senior Mary Mayer, the Bison’s setter.
“It means a lot because of who we went against,” added Sophoa DeOliveira, a junior hitter.
The first set was a back-and-forth affair. An Abby Harris block gave the Titans a 17-16 lead before the Bison rallied to take the set.
“We came out nervous,” New Buffalo coach Kevin Labaj said.
“Once we got past that, we took off. Serving in the first set was hindering us. In the second and third set, we changed some things up and we caught fire and didn’t look back.”
New Buffalo jumped out to a 9-4 lead in set two. Michigan Lutheran responded with a 7-3 run to trim the lead to one before the Bison countered with a 6-2 run that allowed them to stay ahead for good.
Set three was all New Buffalo, which led by as many as 10 points before winning by nine.
“I talked to them in the third set about and told them that this game is going to feel like you’re carrying a 100-pound bag up Mt. Everest,” Labaj said. “If you see people climbing the mountain, they climb in teams; they’re tied to each other. I told them that if they work together, there’s nobody that can beat us.
“Everything was clicking. They had a feeling that they were going to win. They were making their future happen and everything went according to plan.”
Mara Rugen had 13 kills and 14 digs for the Titans, who finished the season with a 21-18-2 record.
“Every time we got close, we’d make an error or they’d get a kill,” Michigan Lutheran coach Bruce Molineaux said.
“They stayed ahead of us and we couldn’t get over the hump. They have some awfully good hitters. They’re a good team and deserved to win. My kids hustled out there and gave it their all.”
The Bison were scheduled to face top-ranked Mendon on Nov. 12, in the Division 4 regional semifinal at Martin (the program’s first regional appearance since 2013).
Statistical leaders for New Buffalo included: Mary Mayer 3 aces, 24 assists; Kelsey Corkran 3 aces, 10 kills, 9 digs; Sophia DeOliveira 3 aces, 18 kills, 15 digs; Ava Mullen 3 aces, 9 kills, 3 blocks.
The Bison played strong from start to finish on Wednesday, Nov. 6, to sweep past the host Mustangs 25-9, 25-10, 25-10 in a district semifinal match.
New Buffalo moved on to its first regional appearance since 2013. The Bison were defeated by top-ranked Mendon on Tuesday, Nov. 12, in the Division 4 regional semifinal at Martin.