BATTLE CREEK – The ball hadn’t stopped bouncing before the tears came for Holland DeVries.
The Kalamazoo Christian senior’s spike caromed off a Traverse City St. Francis block Saturday, spinning to the ground to end the Division 3 Volleyball Final at Kellogg Arena.
DeVries immediately turned, emotions taking over her face, and joined her teammates in a pile on the court.
“I’ve been on this team for four years, and we’ve worked so hard – I’ve been playing since sixth grade with six of these seniors,” DeVries said. “It just means so much to us, because this is all we’ve worked for since we were literally 10 years old. It just means so much.”
DeVries and the Comets defeated St. Francis 26-24, 16-25, 25-23, 25-20 to claim the first volleyball title in school history. It came a year after they were runners-up, losing in four sets against Pewamo-Westphalia.
Earlier in the week, the Comets slayed that dragon, downing the Pirates in a Quarterfinal, but they weren’t satisfied until coach Carlie Southland was handed the Finals championship trophy.
“Especially for our seniors, we had six of them this year, and this was their last shot,” Southland said. “We made it a goal to win the state Finals, so it feels extra good to have done that. We watched a lot of film from last year and said, ‘What are the reasons that we lost?’ We watched that film, we picked out those reasons and said, ‘OK, we’re going to work on those reasons this year at the beginning of the year to make sure we are ready to come back here again this year.’”
The main takeaway? Mental toughness.
DeVries said she and her teammates knew that had to be a focus if they were going to achieve their goals, and it was apparent Saturday, as it was tested early and often.
Kalamazoo Christian didn’t take a lead in the first set until 25-24, as it fell behind 13-3.
After chipping away and spending most of the set down a single point, a kill from DeVries and an emphatic block by Hayden Deming gave the Comets the 26-24 victory in the set, which featured seven kills from Makenna Ekkens.
While St. Francis won the second set going away, the third and fourth were back and forth throughout, but it was the Comets who found a way to come out ahead in each.
“My team literally just was so good and pushed through,” DeVries said. “We didn’t play the best that we’ve played all tournament, but I still think that it shows that even when we’re not playing great, we can still push through and still win. We’ve been working a lot on mental toughness, and I think we did well on that tonight.”
DeVries finished with 16 kills and 27 digs for the Comets (43-6-3), while Ekkens had 17 kills and 14 digs. They’re two of the six seniors, joined by classmates Mackenzie Ash, Lola Stecker, Jovie Cochran and Sophia Nash.
All six contributed to the program’s first Finals title.
Cochran finished her last match with a team-high 28 digs, while Stecker had 39 assists and 11 digs. Ash had four total blocks, and Nash had five digs.
“It makes me so emotional, because I know that there’s younger girls now that look up to us a lot,” DeVries said. “I know that there’s 40-something girls trying out for the team. That just shows that we’ve inspired them to play, and I hope that this program keeps building on and on.”
Annelise DeJong added 11 kills for Kalamazoo Christian.
St. Francis also was seeking its first title, having been Class C runner-up in 2012. With just two seniors on the roster and several sophomore contributors, however, the future looks very bright.
It was one of those seniors, Garnet Mullet, who tied for the team lead with 15 kills for St. Francis (38-10-1), to go along with 18 digs.
Quinn Yenshaw also had 15 kills and added 19 digs for the Gladiators, while Reese Jones had 24 assists and 19 digs, and Tessah Konas had 15 assists.
“Our focus has been on shifting our culture to playing for each other instead of ourselves for a long time,” St. Francis coach Kathleen Nance said. “They really owned that. I think that we’re just going to continue to climb.”
PHOTOS (Top) Kalamazoo Christian players hoist their Division 3 championship trophy Saturday at Kellogg Arena. (Middle) Kalamazoo Christian's Holland DeVries (5) attempts to block a kill attempt by St. Francis' Claire Hurley (9). (Below) Jovie Cochran (8) and Makenna Ekkens celebrate. (Photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)
Sarah Bradley ♦ Clarkston Everest Collegiate
Junior ♦ Volleyball
The 6-0 outside hitter had 31 kills – tied for sixth-most in an MHSAA Final – with a .419 hitting percentage and 18 digs as Everest Collegiate came back from a two-set deficit to defeat No. 4-ranked Leland in five in Saturday’s Division 4 championship match at Kellogg Arena. The first Finals title in program history capped a tournament run that saw the Mountaineers also win their first Regional title. Everest entered the postseason ranked No. 10 in Division 4 and finished 32-4-2.
Bradley finished the season with 420 kills, adding 15 in a Quarterfinal win over No. 6 Marlette and 25 in a five-set Semifinal victory over top-ranked Adrian Lenawee Christian during which Everest also came back after losing the first two sets. Bradley was named to the Division 4 all-state first team after earning an honorable mention as a sophomore. She also plays basketball, softball and soccer for the Mountaineers and is interested in pursuing a career in the medical field as she begins contemplating her college possibilities.
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Past 2023-24 Honorees
Nov. 17: Kalieb Osborne, Waterford Mott football - Report
Nov. 10: Tekalegn Vlasma, Muskegon Western Michigan Christian soccer - Report
Nov. 3: Colton Kinnie, Birmingham Seaholm football - Report
Oct. 27: Lauren Timpf, Macomb Lutheran North golf - Report
Oct. 20: Alena Li, Okemos golf - Report
Oct. 13: Seth Norder, Grand Haven cross country - Report
Oct. 5: Paige Anderson, Muskegon Reeths-Puffer golf - Report
Sept. 29: MacKenzie Bisballe, Lake City volleyball - Report
Sept. 22: Jhace Massey, Gladwin football - Report
Sept. 15: Kaylee Draper, Sturgis swimming - Report
Sept. 8: Owen Jackson, Traverse City St. Francis tennis - Report
Sept. 1: Rachel Forsyth, Ann Arbor Pioneer cross country - Report
(Photos courtesy of the Clarkston Everest Collegiate athletic department.)