And then there were four

Hurons ready for latest challenge against Plymouth Christian in semifinals

News File Photo Rogers City’s Catheryn Hart (20) hits a ball past Mt. Pleasant Sacred Heart’s Michele Hubbard during a Class D volleyball quarterfinal in Gaylord on Tuesday.

The Rogers City volleyball team has been put to the test in the last two and a half weeks.

The Hurons have gone down to the wire with opponents, beaten others with ease and gotten every opponent’s best effort throughout the postseason.

Yet after five matches–three of them against ranked opponents–the Hurons have survived and ready for the next challenge.

They’ll get their biggest one to date against top-ranked Plymouth Christian at 2 p.m. today in a Class D state semifinal at Kellogg Arena in Battle Creek.

“That’s so exciting to think you’re one of the last four left,” Rogers City coach Jackie Quaine said. “It’s very, very special. We had a tough time at the beginning of the year putting some things together, but the girls worked hard and were open to changing some things to make it all work. It’s a testament to the hard work they put in.”

Neither team is a stranger to Kellogg Arena. Both teams made semifinal appearances there last season and the Eagles are making their third consecutive appearance in the final four.

The Eagles defeated Leland in four sets to win the Class D state title in 2016 and this will mark the third year they’ve arrived in Battle Creek as Class D’s top-ranked team.

Led by 5-foot-9 sisters Grace and Gabriella Kellogg, a senior and sophomore respectively, the Eagles have cut an easy path through the postseason, surrendering just one set. Grace (463 kills, 77 aces) and Gabriella (363 kills, 68 aces) are a potent 1-2 punch for the Eagles up front. Senior Abigail Pray has been a steady presence up front as well with 875 assists.

Plymouth Christian (43-8-3) has been on a roll, but the Eagles were tested early in the year by Class A teams such as Novi and Bloomfield Hills Marian, who will play in the Class A semifinals.

“They’re good. The coach from Sacred Heart told me, ‘Jackie, they’re tough,'” Quaine said. “They can hit from all three spots in the front and they’re good.”

Rogers City has had its back against the wall several times this postseason and come out on top. Last week the Hurons went wire-to-wire with No. 2 Leland and won. On Tuesday, tenth-ranked Mt. Pleasant Sacred Heart pushed Rogers City to five sets in a quarterfinal and the Hurons prevailed yet again.

Junior Taylor Fleming and senior Kayla Rabeau have been hard for opponents to stop and have elevated their games in the playoffs. Fleming is averaging 21 kills per match in the postseason and Rabeau is averaging 20.2 kills and 17.4 digs.

As blistering as the duo has been on the offensive end, Rogers City’s players have worked well together and the entire lineup has contributed. Freshman Kristin Brege is averaging 37.4 assists during the postseason and junior libero Jayna Hance is averaging 22.4 digs.

Quaine has been impressed with the Hurons’ ability to elevate itself with each game and she’s counting on her team to do that again today to slow the Eagles.

“I’m amazed at how strong they are. They’re competitive and they never give up,” Quaine said of her team. “They keep battling back and that’s what you have to do. They’ve turned it up a level in each (playoff) match we’ve played where they’re hitting a little harder, reaching a little higher for a block or digging up a few more balls.”

Munising will play sixth-ranked Fowler in the early semifinal at noon.

The two winners will play in the championship game at 10 a.m. on Saturday.

James Andersen can be reached via email at sports@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5694. Follow James on Twitter @ja_alpenanews.