LINCOLN-The Johannesburg-Lewiston volleyball team has gained a lot of momentum in the last few weeks heading into district play.
That momentum reached a high point on Friday night as the Cardinals swept Alcona in a Class C volleyball district at Alcona High School, 25-12, 25-15 and 25-23.
The Cardinals captured their third district title under coach Kristine Peppin in four years and completed a perfect run through their district, sweeping Whittemore-Prescott, Tawas and Alcona.
It's proven to be a thrilling ride for the Cardinals who will face McBain in a regional semifinal next week in Traverse City after McBain defeated Pine River 3-1.
"I'm thrilled. We are excited that we were able to be district champions this year. We've worked hard this season and these girls deserve it," Peppin said. "The season starts for volleyball at the beginning of August. These girls have put in a lot of time over the summer. They've really worked hard and we've gone to some great tournaments this year. These last few weeks we've taken first and it led in nice to the playoffs."
The Cardinals jumped out to a 6-1 lead in the opening game and held off a pair of charges by the Tigers, who couldn't seem to find the same groove they had on Thursday in a sweep of Oscoda.
Alcona rallied to within three, 12-9, midway through the first game, but Johannesburg took control from there and cruised the rest of the game.
Abby Schlicker led the Cardinals with 11 kills and 22 digs and had 100 percent serving for the match. Brittany Cherwinski added nine kills.
The Tigers had trouble against a tough Cardinals' offense, which seemed to find all the right holes in Alcona's defense. The Cardinals were especially effective in making plays close to the net, either with a key tip or block that Alcona wasn't able to answer.
Peppin lauded her team's ability for being able to get offense going, regardless of the rotation.
"Every rotation we've got hitters that can really put up the ball and put it down with big kills," Peppin said. "Every rotation there's a girl up there I'm confident we can give the ball to and she'll make the play."
The two teams played each other close in the second game with neither team leading by more than two points for most of the game. Hanging on to a 16-14 lead, Johannesburg put the pedal down and ended the game on a 9-1 run as Alcona continued to struggle.
Hannah Huff added six kills and 21 digs for the Cardinals and also had 100 percent serving. Julia Neiman had 21 assists, 11 service points and four aces. Tiffany Nickert and Katelyn Weaver each had three aces.
The night's final game proved to be the closest as Alcona rallied back from a 15-9 deficit to cut the Cardinals' lead to two. Johannesburg took a 19-14 lead, but Alcona rallied back again. In the late stages of the game, the Cardinals took a 23-20 lead, but Alcona scored the next two points.
Huff came up big for the Cardinals at the end, tipping the ball twice in the last three points. Her first tip gave Johannesburg a 24-22 lead and then with a 24-23 lead, Huff tipped the ball again on almost the exact same play to give the Cardinals the win.
With confidence high after another district title win, Peppin hopes the Cardinals can keep that same energy going as they head into the regional semifinal.
"Hopefully (they have) confidence that we know we can play with the teams we're up against," Peppin said. "Hopefully we can take the success we've had the last couple weeks and really run with it."