If Tuesday night was any indication, there’s a pretty wide gap between the states’ No. 1 and No. 7 Class D volleyball teams.
The Hillsdale Academy Colts certainly learned from the best on their home court, as top-ranked Battle Creek St. Phil methodically picked them apart and made very few mistakes in a three-set sweep, 25-9, 25-12, 25-15.
Miss Volleyball candidate Lena Oliver, St. Phil’s libero, set the tone by dominating the first set, and the combo of Megan Toth and Carly Dickerson were forces at the net for the duration as the Fighting Tigers improved to 39-5-3 overall, and the Colts fell to 21-9-1 on the season.
Longtime Fighting Tigers coach Vicky Groat said she has been preaching consistency, and that’s exactly how her team executed Tuesday.
“Consistency is actually what we talked about this weekend when we were up at East Kentwood, (where) I don’t think we played with much consistency,” she said. “We wanted to focus on that tonight with our level of play, our passing and our excitement — and I thought they did that pretty well in game one and two and in game three I thought we just went back to our old ways of we’re just here playing.”
Oliver was scarcely an inch out of position for at least the first half of the match as she dug up almost everything the Colts were trying to throw down. Oliver has committed to play volleyball at Western Michigan next year and Colts’ head coach Katherine Jones said the libero was certainly a game-changer, the kind her girls learned to keep the ball away from as the night went on.
“We served a lot to her and hit a lot to her in the first game, but in the finally two games we served to her three times and made sure to keep the ball away from here because she is a libero who can definitely set the tone,” she said.
Battle Creek St. Phil was not lacking in height or sheer force on its front line either, and players like Toth were almost the volleyball equivalent of a home run hitter, as she would wind up and constantly drill power shots that were nearly impossible to defend.
Groat admits she has it good with a group of seniors that is looking to go a perfect 4-for-4 in their careers with a fourth consecutive Class D state title next month.
“I’m very fortunate I’ve got a great group of seniors. Megan, Carly and Amanda Bolles, seniors, are all very tall girls, they’ve been around for a while,” she said.”And with Lena back there, she’s a Miss Volleyball candidate as a libero, it makes us pretty solid all the way through.”
The Fighting Tigers have won nearly 95 percent of its games since the beginning of the 2006 season.
Jones said her team was not just another victim though, as she saw steady improvement throughout the sets that can go a long ways come the postseason.
“For the most part we didn’t play bad and really our passes weren’t bad at all. We would just play well and then not play so well — make a rally and then not finish it,” she said. “I told the girls from now on practices need to be as intense as this match was. We know what level we need to be at now, so if we meet them down the road we’ll be prepared and maybe it will end differently.”
She said St. Phil obviously has good hitters, but her girls started to adjust to where they were hitting and did a better job of keeping the ball in play.
Sophomore Emily Pewe had an impressive third set with four of her five kills in the match, and junior Heather Lantis kept trying to rally the troops with several acrobatic saves and sets.
Grae Barber had eight digs for the Academy and Callie Watkins added seven.
“They have good hitters, I don’t want to take anything away from them, but I think we were getting better as the match went on,” Jones said. “We started to adjust to where they were hitting and started playing the left side more, we just need to be able to sustain our play at a high level.”