BATTLE CREEK – The Kestrel is the official nickname of Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central.
But as sports were put on pause late this past fall, the volleyball team found another animal to represent it and get it through the break.
“We definitely adopted some new mottos over the break,” senior middle hitter Abbie Costlow said. “We got a lion – our team represents a lion. And that’s really propelled us through this last run of the state playoffs. It’s really helped us and driven our focus.”
The Kestrels were lion-like Saturday, claiming their second straight Division 3 volleyball title with a dominant 25-19, 25-16, 25-8 win against Schoolcraft. It’s the seventh title for the program, and for the second-straight year they capped it off with a win against Schoolcraft in a matchup of the division’s top two teams in the rankings.
It also was the end of a dominant run this season for St. Mary, which won its final 23 sets and didn’t drop one throughout the postseason.
While the 2019 Final was a five-set thriller, this edition was dominated by St. Mary throughout, as it charged out to a 6-0 lead in the first set and never looked back. The Kestrels trailed only once through the entire match, as Schoolcraft took a 2-1 lead in the third set. That was immediately wiped out, however.
“As we talked pregame, it really didn’t matter what they were doing on their side; it mattered what we were doing on our 30-by-30 court,” St. Mary coach Karen O’Brien said. “It was important that we just came out strong for us.”
The Kestrels’ two-headed monster of Costlow and Mikayla Haut led a dominant attack, as Haut had 17 kills and Costlow had 14. Each were above 35 percent on their attacks, and the team was at 32.1 percent overall.
“For one, our passing and our defense was extremely good,” O’Brien said. “And then, with those two things, our setter has three options. We started off, in the beginning of the first set, I think Abbie had four or five kills in a row, and I don’t know if that caught them off guard a little bit, because normally we feed Mikayla at the beginning. Abbie got the first five swings, and I just think with our passing and our defense, and a lot of that has to do with Jaydin (Nowak) playing the back row, and Ava Kuehnlein and Mikayla in the back row, that they’re so used to each other and have such great chemistry. As long as we’re passing and playing defense, we can run anything that we want to. The defense on the other side just doesn’t know who it’s coming from.”
Nowak led the defense with 23 digs, while Haut – a Miss Volleyball finalist who is headed to Fairfield University in Connecticut – added 12. The Kestrels’ two setters were also busy, as Kate Collingsworth had 28 assists, and Grace Lipford had 12.
Kelby Goldschmeding led Schoolcraft with 15 digs, while Allie Goldschmeding had 12. Kayla Onken had 15 assists for the Eagles (37-4), and Maggie Morris finished with nine kills.
“I feel like at moments we won the serve and serve-receive battle, and that was a focus, but we couldn’t control it for the whole match,” Schoolcraft coach Erin Onken said. “I think we stayed as aggressive as we could. I thought Allie and Maggie really stayed aggressive attack-wise today. Kelby made some great saves back row for us. All in all, we just got beat by a great team that had a great day.”
Schoolcraft advanced to the final without playing a Semifinal, as Saginaw Valley Lutheran was forced to withdraw from the tournament earlier in the week. Both coaches agreed that getting to play Thursday was an advantage for the Kestrels, but Onken said it didn’t affect the outcome.
“That was a disadvantage, for sure, but that’s not why we lost or why we played how we did today at all,” she said. “We should have been able to walk in here with the kids who started last year and played here last year, as many as we had starting on the floor today, we should have been able to come out with a little bit more steam. So, yeah, that stinks, but it’s not a factor for today.”
Of course, both teams had the experience of 2019 to draw from, and it was something the St. Mary players also valued.
“You never can really prepare to play in a gym this big under the lights,” Haut said. “Usually, it’s a lot louder, so that was definitely different than last year. But when you play a game in Battle Creek before, it definitely helps you.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Monroe St. Mary’s Mikayla Haut follows through on a swing during Saturday’s Division 3 Final. (Middle) Schoolcraft’s Maggie Morris winds up at the net. (Click for more from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)
BATTLE CREEK – Natasha Bickel had an up-close look the last time North Branch won a Finals volleyball title. As a ball girl, she was able to watch the Broncos take home a championship at Kellogg Arena.
On Saturday, Bickel got to experience being on the court to win one.
“I remember when I was a ball girl one of the years we won states (2016) and one of the years we didn’t,” Bickel, a senior middle hitter, said. “Except for last year, we haven’t really came this far. Coming back here, being in the Finals and winning it? It put the cherry on top.”
Bickel and the Broncos defeated Cadillac 31-29, 25-18, 25-17 in the Division 2 Final. It was the fourth title for the program, and first since 2016.
“We put a lot into this,” Bickel said. “We’ve poured our lives into this sport. It’s really awesome. This was our goal since we were little. As we were going up every year we were pushing for it, and last year we came so, so close to doing it. We added a freshman and she’s amazing, and everybody is healthy this year. It was just really, really awesome.
North Branch was the Division 2 runner-up a year ago, losing to Pontiac Notre Dame Prep in the Final. The Broncos downed the Irish in the Regional Final this year, and didn’t drop a set the rest of the way, sweeping Mount Morris in the Quarterfinal and Grand Rapids South Christian in the Semifinal.
So it may have caught some off guard when Cadillac had some early success Saturday night.
Cadillac had North Branch (53-7) on the ropes quickly, jumping out to a 16-9 lead in the first set and forcing the Broncos to take a pair of timeouts over a five-point span.
Vikings middle hitter Carissa Musta, who stands 6-foot-4, was a major reason for that. She had three straight blocks, four total, and two kills during a 10-point run.
While North Branch scrambled to find a way to hit around her, it struggled to get into its offense, and went down 10 before starting to dig out.
“I just said, keep battling guys, keep battling,” North Branch coach Jim Fish said. “That’s the mark of a good team that they’re not going to give up. We didn’t panic, which was good. That’s a huge comeback.”
When the Broncos did dig out, it led to an epic end of the set. North Branch fought off eight Cadillac set points before finally taking the lead back at 29-28.
Freshman Aubree Deshetsky, who kept the Broncos alive initially with four straight high-pressure serves, had the final three kills of the set to put it away. She had eight kills total in the set.
“Aubree Deshetsky’s a stud,” Fish said. “She’s a stud, she does a lot for our team. We had everybody back, and she forced her way into our lineup. She’s just a great player. She’s going to be heard for the next three years.”
While the first-set defeat could have been a back-breaker for a Cadillac team looking to pull an upset, it did not wilt. The Vikings stood toe-to-toe with the Broncos in the second set, despite playing from behind for nearly all of it.
Cadillac (34-11-4) even tied the set at 18 before Bickel helped North Branch rattle off the final seven points to take it. Bickel had three kills in the final stretch, showing off power and finesse in the process.
The Broncos flexed their muscle in the third set, building a 20-8 lead with eight straight points – seven on Bickel’s serve. Her block then put North Branch a point away, and the match was won on a service error.
“If we could have just gotten one of those set points (in the first set), who knows what would have happened,” Cadillac coach Michelle Brines said. “I was really proud of my team, because I don’t know that people gave us much of a chance at all. And, we just played really tough. We played pretty tough for the first set and a half, then it kind of seemed like we were running out of steam a little bit and they were asserting their will.”
Deshetsky finished with 13 kills and 14 digs for the Broncos, while Clara Gyomory had 12 kills and Bickel had 11. Alana Deshetsky finished with nine kills and 22 digs, Hailey Green had 25 digs and Adrienne Greschaw had 45 assists for the Broncos.
Musta led Cadillac with 16 kills and seven blocks. Brooke Ellens had 23 digs, and Cassie Jenema had 30 assists and 17 digs.
PHOTOS (Top) North Branch celebrates its Division 2 championship Saturday at Kellogg Arena. (Middle) The Broncos’ Adrienne Greschaw (1) sets as Cadillac awaits the kill attempt. (Below) Cadillac’s Carissa Musta (9) powers a hit toward a North Branch block.