ST. IGNACE- The Onaway volleyball team has accomplished a lot of goals this season.
The Cardinals won the Ski Valley Conference for the first time, they've been ranked in Class D all season and they won a district title.
They can now add a regional championship to their already impressive resume.
Onaway found success with outside hitting all night and swept Rudyard in a Class D regional final on Thursday in St. Ignace, beating the Bulldogs 25-21, 25-19 and 25-8.
The Cardinals advance to a quarterfinal on Tuesday in Petoskey to face Crystal Falls Forest Park after winning a regional final for the first time in four tries.
Mariah Ehrke led the Cardinals with 16 kills, two aces and 15 digs. As she has been all season, Ehrke was Onaway's go to player on Thursday, always seeming to come out with a big hit when the Cardinals needed it most.
"It's unbelievable. We talked at the beginning of the season about trying to get as far as we could. Regionals was one of our goals and to accomplish it is an amazing feeling," Ehrke said. "I can't believe we've made it this far with all the talent we have."
The two sides played tight in the opening game with neither side leading by more than two points through the midway point. While Onaway has defeated teams all season with big hitters up front, Rudyard's defense showed its mettle, answering the Cardinals' hits with attacks of its own.
Onaway capitalized on some Rudyard mistakes to eventually pull ahead 16-12 and never trailed again. Though Ehrke led Onaway in kills, the Cardinals also got many big plays from Devin Bristley, who finished with 15 kills and 11 digs.
Bristley showed resilience late in the first game after her shot bounced off the net and kept in with a diving save by libero Emily Estep. Bristley was set up with a shot again and didn't miss this time, recording a kill to give Onaway a 19-15 lead.
Onaway gained a 21-15 advantage before a handful of mistakes and some heads-up plays by the Bulldogs pulled them to within one, 21-20. The Cardinals relied on their depth and pulled ahead again thanks to a kill from Elise Arkwood, an ace from Megan Estep and a block by Sara Fullerton and Meagan Self that clinched the first game for Onaway.
Rudyard coach Ellen Perry was pleased with the way her team played, but said the loss in the first game after such a hard effort made it difficult for the Bulldogs to come back the rest of the match.
"It's the same place we got last year, so we definitely wanted to do that again. We were hoping for another set," Perry said. "I think they gave a lot in that first game and I think that that was tough to come up on the short end of that one after putting so much out there."
Onaway stormed out to a 9-3 lead to open the second game after kills from Ehrke, Self, Bristley and an ace from Fullerton. With Ehrke as the left outside hitter and Bristley on the right, Rudyard had a difficult time stopping their attacks. On the flip side, the Bulldogs answered Onaway's offense with their inside hitters, who helped keep Rudyard in the match.
Kayla Coffey led Rudyard with nine kills and was 9-for-9 from the service line. Savannah Dugan added five kills; Marissa Harrison had three kills and 17 digs and Ashlee Bonnee had 12 assists.
The Cardinals stretched their lead to 15-5 in the second game before Rudyard answered back with five straight points after some strong defensive plays. Later on, with Onaway leading 19-12, Rudyard inched close again, making the score 19-16 and later 21-19 after an ace from Shiloh Spencer and a ball that was hit out of bounds.
Onaway responded by scoring the game's final four points to take a 2-0 game advantage. Onaway head coach Steve Watson praised his team for playing strong throughout the night, even when Rudyard threatened to take the lead.
"They have a no-quit attitude. They just take every game as another contest they have to rise to it and they handle themselves on the court, they work really hard," Watson said. "It isn't just the talent level, it's the work ethic and they have both. They're the ones going out there and laying on the floor and bruising themselves up to take away the other team's best shot night after night.
Megan Estep had four kills, 42 assists and three aces for Onaway. Self had two kills and two digs; Lexi Szymoniak had eight kills and 11 digs; Kallie Shimel had six digs; Emily Estep added 12 digs and Fullerton chipped in with five kills and two digs.
The final game saw a return to tight play, before Onaway pulled away with an eight-point run to take a 15-4 lead, again getting key plays from several players. The Bulldogs looked to be tired by the third match and offered little resistance.
Holding a 17-7 lead, Onaway ended the game and captured the regional title with an 8-1 stretch to finish the game. Ehrke came up with several big plays during the stretch, including a well-placed tip before she recorded a kill to clinch the title.
Ehrke credited her teammates with playing well and putting her in position to make plays.
"The back row did such a good job digging up everything we were giving up. Megan Estep was setting me up really well. We practice at the other court trying to find stuff and helped us. I was able to find holes and get us points," Ehrke said.
After accomplishing another first in school history, Watson is happy with what his team has done this year, but said after the match he'd like to keep it going.
We've been to the regional finals and never won the conference and we did both of those things in the same year," Watson said. "Now that we've gotten this far, I want to let it be known that we're not satisfied with winning the regional. We want to keep going and see how it ends."