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Onaway volleyball faces tough compeition in quarterfinals

November 12, 2012
By JAMES ANDERSEN - News Sports Editor , The Alpena News

For one team it's very familiar territory. For the other it's a completely new experience.

But for whichever team wins tonight's Class D volleyball quarterfinal between Crystal Falls Forest Park and Onaway, it will be one step closer to this weekend's state finals in Battle Creek.

The two teams will face each other tonight at 5 p.m at Manistique High School. The game was originally scheduled to be played in Petoskey, but was moved to the U.P. per the Michigan High School Athletic Association's alternate site policy on Friday.

After sweeping Rudyard last Thursday to lock up the first regional title in school history, Onaway (47-4-3) finds itself up against a talented Forest Park team. However, the Cardinals are taking it as another challenge they have to rise up to.

"We know they're good. They're the team to beat after going to the semifinals last year," Onaway coach Steve Watson said. "The girls are proud of what they've done. They want to succeed. They want to beat this team. They want to keep winning and show how good they are."

Making the quarterfinals has become an expectation now for Forest Park as the Trojans have locked up a spot in Class D's final eight in five of the last six seasons. Tonight's game marks the third straight year the Trojans have made it to the quarterfinal and they've done it in dominating fashion this season. Forest Park (31-3-3) won a district title on its home floor and swept two teams in a regional last week.

While Forest Park has established itself as one of the state's best volleyball teams, getting this far this year still comes as something of a surprise. The Trojans graduated four starters from a team that made the semifinals last year and coach Kim Bjork was expecting some growing pains.

"I thought this year was going to be more of a building year. We've had some good team members that have stepped up," Bjork said. "I'm happy with what we've done so far this season. Hopefully we can push past this point."

Advancing to Friday's semifinal won't be easy for either team. Onaway's front row players which include Mariah Ehrke and Devin Bristley have all tallied more than 200 kills this season. Against Rudyard, Ehrke and Bristley combined for 31 kills, finding success on the outside. While those two lead way, Onaway also has several other hitters who have been able to step up on any given night including Sara Fullerton, Megan Estep and Meagan Self.

Bjork is well aware of Onaway's success this season and said the Trojans will need to continue playing at a high level.

"We need to play the best game of the season. Onaway's one of best teams we've seen all year," Bjork said.

The Trojans feature a tough lineup as well, headlined by junior Lexi Gussert, who earned all-state honors last season. Gussert led the Trojans with 22 kills in their regional final win over Eben Junction Superior Central.

Watson said it will be tough to stop Gussert, but the Cardinals' hallmark is top-notch defense and while Gussert may still put up her usual numbers, Onaway will focus on stopping the rest of Forest Park's players. Onaway did this to great affect against Rudyard, letting Kayla Coffey record nine kills in the middle, but shut down the rest of the Bulldogs' offense.

"We'll look to capitalize on some things we do better than they do," Watson said.

For whichever team advances, the road doesn't get any easier. The winner likely has a date with Battle Creek St. Philip - winners of the last six Class D state titles - in the semifinals on Friday.



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