The road gets tougher

Hurons, Tigers prepare for regional semifinal clashes

News File Photo Rogers City juniors Taylor Fleming (4) and Shawna McDonald (11) block a kill attempt by Hillman’s Kristen Kenyon during a district semifinal volleyball match at Rogers City High School last week.

Two teams that played in the Class D state semifinals at Kellogg Arena in Battle Creek a season ago, will meet up tonight in a regional semifinal match at Bellaire High School.

Rogers City and Leland played on opposite ends of the bracket last year when both teams traveled to Battle Creek for the state semifinals and both teams fell one game short of the championship game.

Tonight, one team’s season will end far before it can think about making plans to return to Kellogg Arena. The two teams will square off at 7:30 p.m.

In other local action, Alcona will play Elk Rapids in a Class C regional semifinal in Houghton Lake at 7:30 p.m.

Both Rogers City and Leland come into tonight’s contest ranked in Class D. The Hurons finished ranked eighth in the season’s final poll, but defeated No. 5 Onaway to claim their third consecutive district championship. Leland finished ranked second.

Despite falling in the state semifinals last year, Leland is just two years removed from winning it all and ending the impressive nine-year state title run of Battle Creek St. Phillip. The Comets also fell in the state finals in 2014 and won championships in 2002 and 2006, along with another runner-up finish in 2005.

“Leland has a great volleyball program and they are a class act. We know it’s going to be a tough challenge for us, but we need to just go out relax, focus and the rest will happen,” Rogers City coach Jackie Quaine said. “We’ve just been keeping things very simple and we just need to do what we’ve been doing and have fun because that’s what it’s all about.”

The Hurons made their first trip to the state semifinals last year and have aspirations of getting back to Battle Creek again as they return a handful of talent from last year’s team.

Rogers City is led by senior Kayla Rabeau and junior Taylor Fleming who give the opposition fits with their size and ability to attack at the net. Senior Hannah Fleming and junior Jayna Hance are two other key returners from the Hurons run a season ago.

Along with its veteran talent, Rogers City has also relied on some of its underclassmen this season. Freshman Kristin Brege and sophomore Kyrsten Altman have both played important roles for the Hurons this season. Catheryn Hart, Maddie Hincka, Amanda Wirgau, Sarah Brege, Shawna McDonald, Alissa Bowden and Christina Andrzejewski have all played key roles throughout the season.

“A lot of our girls have stepped up throughout the year and if we are on our A game we can give them a real challenge and it should be a really good match,” Quaine said. “We know Leland has some good servers and strong outside hitting so we have been preparing for that and trying to find ways to keep them off balance. We have good players, we just have to play our game.”

Despite returning several key players, Quaine had several adjustments she had to make and pieces to move around early in the season before the Hurons really got going. Once the pieces aligned, Rogers City finished the regular season the same as they did a year ago, by catching fire and winning at the right time.

The Hurons are back again, riding a wave of momentum, heading into their toughest match of the year.

“Everyone has earned their spot throughout the season. The competition has made our team better as we worked on different things throughout the year,” Quaine said. “We tried some different things and kept working to find what works for us and fortunately it has all started to work at the perfect time of the year.”

The winner will advance to Thursday’s regional final game against Hale or Bellaire.