Late run powers St. Francis past Hurons in volleyball regional

News Photo by James Andersen Rogers City players Kyrsten Altman (2) and Catheryn Hart attempt to block an attack from Traverse City St. Francis middle hitter Molly Mirabelli during a volleyball regional semifinal on Tuesday in Gaylord.

GAYLORD–The Rogers City volleyball team ran out of momentum at the wrong time on Tuesday.

Buoyed by a late scoring surge, Traverse City St. Francis caught fire late in the final set of a Division 3 regional semifinal and defeated the Hurons in four sets–25-16, 25-17, 22-25 and 25-21–at Gaylord High School.

Facing off against the No. 8 Gladiators, the Hurons held their own after dropping the night’s first two sets. After grinding out a win in the third set, the Hurons had plenty of momentum and energy and looked poised to force a deciding set before St. Francis sealed the victory.

“We came out in the beginning and I just wasn’t sure what was going to happen. I just thought, ‘Well this might be three and done,'” Rogers City coach Jackie Quaine said. “But you know what? They had a lot of fight, there was a lot of good volleyball going on and those girls found a way. We found a way to right under their skin.”

The Hurons held a 19-16 lead late in the final set, but were outscored 9-2 the rest of the way after heads-up plays and strong offense from St. Francis.

The Gladiators scored four points to take the lead for good and forced a Rogers City timeout, leading 20-19.Out of the timeout, the two sides traded points and St. Francis got a push from Lauren Tocco and an ace from Hannah Sidorowicz to make it 23-20. After an attacking error gave Rogers City the ball back, St. Francis scored two points to secure the win, the last point coming on an ace from Kaylin Poole.

Rogers City led 7-3 early in the fourth set, but, after an up-and-down third set, the Gladitators came out stronger on offense and got strong front row play from Poole, who finished with 15 kills including six in the last set. She added 13 digs and four aces in the win.

The front row lineup of sisters Kaylin Poole and Brenna Poole and Molly Mirabelli was a formidable challenge for the Hurons, who had to contend with a constant barrage of strong attacks from the trio. Mirabelli led St. Francis with 21 kills and had five digs and an ace. Brenna Poole had 12 kills, 10 digs, two blocks and two aces.

“If we could have just kept them from making those runs and stayed with them point for point then it would have been (different),” Quaine said. “But you know they have a pretty awesome team there and they’re ranked No. 8 for a reason, so do be able to stay with them speaks tons to the girls; for their heart, to get in there and play hard and never quit.”

Despite the strong performance by the Gladitators, Rogers City held its own for several stretches, especially in the third set. Taking advantage of some well-placed kills and a number of St. Francis attacking errors, the Hurons raced out to a 13-5 lead, which proved to be just enough to hold off St. Francis down the stretch. Late in the set Rogers City led 22-17, but a pair of aces from Sidorowicz and kills from Mirabelli and Brenna Poole made it 22-21.

A key block from Catheryn Hart gave Rogers City the ball back with the score at 23-21 and a few volleys later Taylor Fleming and Maddy Hincka combined for a block to give the Hurons a win.

“They absolutely exposed some weaknesses of ours. They were a scrappy team, incredibly scrappy. Never quit. The coach is obviously very smart,” St. Francis coach Mark Witczak said. “They were able to key on the weak area of our defense, and they started hitting them. We had to make some adjustments.”

In her final game as a Huron, Fleming had 14 kills, five blocks and two aces. Hart added eight kills, an ace and three blocks.

Kristin Brege had 22 assists for Rogers City and Kyrsten Altman had two kills and two blocks.

Rogers City had trouble finding its footing in the early going, struggling to adapt to St. Francis’ front row while making a number of attacking errors to give the Gladitators easy points. The Hurons kept things close early in the first set, but St. Francis pulled away with a 7-1 run midway through.

St. Francis was firing on all cylinders in the second set and started on an 11-1 run that Rogers City had no answer for. Rogers City closed the gap somewhat later on in the set, but the early hole was too big to overcome.

Despite the loss, Quaine was proud of her team’s will to keep fighting. It paid off last week when Rogers City won a fourth straight district title, despite playing up a division this season.

“I’m sorry to see it end, but if we’re going to end, I’d rather do it in this fashion where we are fighting for the ball and we’re playing with the other team,” Quaine said. “This is going to be a special group because this is the last group for me. This is what I’m going to remember is that these girls went out with a fight like this.”