It wasn’t Hillsdale Academy’s best effort of the season Tuesday night, but it was more than enough to earn a spot in the regional finals with a sweep of Baptist Park, spurred on by more strong net play and contributions from up and down the bench.
The Colts downed the Wildcats 25-17 in the first set and finished them off 25-21, 25-15 as they hit cruise-control later in the match.
While Academy head coach Katherine Jones was left wanting more adrenaline and communication from her girls, she couldn’t fault them for a whole lot in the technical department.
The Wildcats proved to be a stout defensive team, much like North Adams-Jerome, but the Colts stayed on the attack all evening long, eventually wearing Baptist Park thin.
Grace Leutheuser had 11 kills and Laura Wonders added eight.
“They did dig up a lot, we just kept on them, we kept being aggressive and never gave up. We tried to find some openings and just never gave up,” Jones said. “They had really good defense and dug up some that other teams would never touch.”
Heather Lantis was serving it up to the likes of Leutheuser and Wonders all night en route to a game-high 23 assists and she said her team’s offense is tough to contend with when they get some momentum.
“I think our offense has been really on lately. Laura and Gracie have been doing a great job and our other hitters have been carrying the weight, so we’ve just been doing very well,” she said. “It’s been a lot of fun. I think we’ve all just been focusing really hard in practice, trying to get better and push each other, and it’s just been working very well.”
Paced by the consistent play of senior Karolyn Stephenson at the net and in the back row, the Wildcats never folded, but head coach Keith Clark said his girl’s didn’t play up to their potential.
“If I said anything it would sound like an excuse, so I would just say we didn’t play our game,” he said. “(Hillsdale Academy) played very well. One coach told us we’re the most frustrating team he’s ever played, because of our defense. But Hillsdale, when we made a mistake, they made us pay for it.”
Lantis said part of the reason the Academy is making the opposition pay is not only because they have come together as a team the last few months, but they are also riding the high of continuing success.
“We have definitely (been on a high). After the North Adams match and the win over Lenawee we’ve been pretty excited, so it’s been going pretty well,” she said. “It’s a blast, we make it fun no matter what happens. We definitely have a good time.”
Jones agreed life has been great as of late, but she doesn’t want her girls to get overconfident or rest on their accomplishments.
“We could’ve seen a lot more emotion in this game from our players, that’s kind of where we struggled — the emotions and talking part, communicating. It was just dead quiet in this gym half the time, and that’s what we need to work on,” she said. “We were good enough to get through, but we need to work on (keeping our adrenaline up). I think we just relaxed, I don’t know, it was good, we got through it.”
They got through with everyone on the team making their mark.
Kayla Berro had a long stretch of effective serves in the first game and tallied three aces on the night, while JV call-ups Hannah Smith and Katie Rose got some playing time.
Smith had a dig and Rose attempted a hit.
The Colts now turn their attention to Plymouth Christian, the team who ended their season in the playoffs a year ago.
Jones likes her teams chances of making amends for that.
“They have some big middle hitters…it was hard to see what they were (tonight) because in the first game they were so inconsistent and then they were getting better,” she said. “Their serves are really high and tight so we should be able to get a good block up on it.”