Hillman defeats Posen to end nine-year district title drought

News Photo by James Andersen Members of the Hillman volleyball team pose after winning a district title on Friday in Atlanta. Hillman defeated Posen in four sets. Members of the team include, from left to right: back: head coach Kim Weiland, Alison Samp, Anna Callender, Brooke Grulke, Chelsea Moulton and Ellie Crawford; front: Brooke Jones, Allyn Jencks, Ricki Steinke, Emilee Noffze, MacKenzie VanPamel and Makenna Grulke.

ATLANTA–All season long the Hillman volleyball team has focused on playing together and working as a team.

When the Tigers have done that, good things have usually happened.

Playing in its biggest match of the season, that proved true for Hillman again on Friday. The Tigers used teamwork and timely scoring to defeat Posen in four sets (25-20, 17-25, 25-20 and 26-24) to win a Class D district title at Atlanta High School.

The victory gives the Tigers their first district title since 2009 and moves the Tigers to a regional semifinal matchup with Leland at 6 p.m. on Tuesday in Bellaire.

From the outset, the Tigers got everything they could handle from their North Star League rivals and the Vikings did all they could to force a fifth set. Posen held a 23-21 lead late in the final set, but watched Hillman score four of the final five points. Out of a 24-24 tie, Hillman scored twice, capping the victory with a kill from Makenna Grulke.

“It means a lot,” Hillman volleyball coach Kim Weiland said of the win. “They know now that they can do it. They put their mind to it and they (know they) can do it and they did it.”

Brooke Jones had 12 kills and 48 digs for the Tigers, who won the first and third sets before prevailing in the fourth set. In a game of numerous momentum swings, it was the Tigers who got the last one despite a valiant effort from Posen. In all the two sides tied 29 different times in four sets.

“It’s a good team to play against. They’re a good team and that means more, the sportsmanship,” Weiland said. “It was just really good back and forth and that’s the way it needs to be.”

With the score tied 18-18 late in the fourth set, Hillman scored three points to take a 21-18 lead. Posen fought back, scoring the next five points to take a 23-21 advantage after a pair of aces and a kill from Makayla Kamyzek and a kill and a block from Madison Menzel.

During a late timeout, Weiland told her team to keep calm and relax; victory was within reach, but Hillman was turning the ball over too easily and allowing Posen to keep things close.

“I said ‘Relax. It is not over until you hit 25. Keep your heads in this game and work together,'” Weiland said.

An attacking error by the Vikings made it 23-22 and a push from Alison Samp tied the set at 23. An ace from Jones put Hillman on the verge of victory, but Posen scored to tie things up again. Hillman scored again to make it 25-24 and won after Grulke’s kill. Match point came after Samp nearly scored on push, but Brooke Ciarkowski made a diving defensive play to keep the rally going. The ball was worked around to MacKenzie VanPamel, who set Grulke up for the winning spike.

VanPamel had 16 digs, 13 assists and four aces for the Tigers and Samp had eight kills, 20 assists, 11 digs, a block and two aces. Allyn Jencks had 17 digs and four aces and Ricki Steinke had 17 digs. Anna Callender had seven kills, four digs and three assists. Grulke finished with nine kills, a dig and four aces.

The two teams played to another tie midway through the third set, but Hillman caught fire after a 9-2 run and took a 23-16 lead. Not to be outdone, Posen worked back into the set and made it 23-20 before Hillman scored the set’s final two points.

All night long, Posen focused on scoring on pushes to the corners and many times it proved to be the right play at the right time. Ciarkowski, Menzel and Riley Krajniak scored many points that way for Posen and it worked particularly well in the second set as the Vikings broke a 14-14 tie with a 11-3 run to win their only set of the night.

Scoring on pushes worked for Posen in the first set too as Posen led 13-9 midway through the night’s opening frame. Hillman eventually pulled ahead however, breaking an 18-18 tie with a 7-2 run to win.

After some early struggles this season, Friday’s win was proof of the importance of teamwork. Weiland took over Hillman’s program this summer and worked to turn the Tigers into a cohesive unit. Things started clicking midway through the season, especially once players saw how good teamwork paid off.

“It was a struggle (with) communication, getting used to playing together as a team and working together. It was a constant (goal) to get them to work together and become a team. It took time, but halfway through the season they realized if they rallied around each other and held each other up, they could do it,” Weiland said. “That’s what they needed to do. They needed to work as a team.”