The “Comeback Queens” aren’t finished yet and apparently the old adage that defense wins championships is especially true in November volleyball.
The Hillsdale Academy volleyball team recovered from a 1-0 hole and utilized exceptional net-play and undying determination to beat No. 2 Lenawee Christian 3-1 on its home court Saturday and bring home the Colts fifth straight district title.
The No. 4 Colts have had quite the run recently, sweeping No. 3 North Adams-Jerome to win the SCAA East and now playing maybe their most complete match of the season to survive the powerful Cougars and create a new chapter of their legacy.
It was a crazy afternoon, with 17 ties and a 20-minute delay due to a fire alarm malfunction, but ultimately it was the Colts’ seniors fighting to live another day, and four-year varsity player Laura
Wonders could not contain her excitement following the match.
“Just being a senior, it’s so awesome to know we will play another game, and our season doesn’t end today and everyone just played so well and stepped up for the team,” said Wonders, who was an absolute force at the net with 11 kills and four solo blocks. “We were so determined to play for each other, and there are five seniors, great senior leadership, and the juniors, Heather Lantis, Grae Barber — everyone was just so motivated to win this game.”
It was apparent early on that desire alone was not going to be enough after some back-row lapses from the Colts coupled with big-time kills from Cougars stars Tenille Marowelli and London Moore had the Academy staring at an 0-1 deficit following a 22-25 loss.
The second set was all about the Academy’s supreme blocking at the net, led by Wonders, as well as Lantis, who is usually known for her diving saves and picture-perfect sets.
Lantis did lead the team with 38 assists, but her tenacity in the face of the Cougars’ power was invigorating for her own team, if not intimidating to the opponents.
With the net play as a catalyst the Colts’ offense also came alive, en route to a 25-21 win.
Senior Grace Leutheuser’s effort of 22 kills and five blocks cannot be overlooked, but even she stood in awe of what Lantis and Wonders were doing.
“They made it easier on me because there wasn’t as much coming back (to me). They did really well,” she said. “(Against Jackson Christian Thursday) Laura did pretty well and today she just did awesome!
It was just dominating, and I loved that as a defensive player.”
While game two brought Colts’ nation to its feet, it was game three that reminded everyone on hand why Colts head coach Katherine Jones dubbed her squad the “Comeback Queens” earlier this year.
The Cougars came out focused, utilizing great ball placement and several cross-court kills from Montanna Ashline to jump out to a 15-9 lead.
The Colts appeared to be running out of gas, but they quickly came together, found their legs, and went on a late 6-2 run.
After going back and forth down the stretch, it was the role players who saved the day, when Shena Albaugh came through with a clutch kill to give the Academy it’s first lead (23-22) and senior Katelyn Milligan polished off the set with a memorable ace.
Jones said it was just one example of how her team believes that playing for each other and for the glory of God brings them together.
“We have individuals who can play well and put the ball down, but our team is our core,” she said. “At the beginning of the season I talked about how our focus was to give glory to God and one of those things is to play as a team, not just individuals.”
A key member of that team Saturday was also Barber, who tallied 10 kills and four blocks.
The third set was enough to break the Cougars will and the Colts coasted to a 25-18 game four win, after a late Lenawee Christian rally fell short.
Lenawee Christian head coach Sue Howard had trouble explaining exactly what happened to her team.
“This is just disappointing today,” she said. “Today we just didn’t play the way we could play.
Defensively we didn’t hold up, and our offense wasn’t on either.”
It was sweet vindication for the Colts, who lost to Cougars during the regular season. Jones said it simply came down to preparation and defense.
“We (knew we) needed to get our block up, we needed to stop their middle (hitters) and their outside (hitters),” she said. “It helped that we played them at the beginning of the year, I think that got us ready to play this game and to play in this gym.”
Howard gave plenty of credit to the Colts for what they were able to accomplish
“We dug ourselves into a hole and they didn’t let up on the pressure, which they shouldn’t have,” Howard said. “Kids who normally don’t make mistakes made mistakes, and what are you going to do when that happens?”
While Howard can now reflect on the season, Jones said she could not be more proud of her team, and the sky is the limit at this point.
“There’s no limits, no limits….I think we can make it to the state finals if we keep playing like this all year,” she said.