Making it look easy: Cardinals sweep their way to a district championship at home

Cardinals sweep their way to a district championship at home

News Photo by Jonny Zawacki The Onaway volleyball team poses with the district championship trophy after sweeping Burt Lake Northern Michigan Christian Academy in the title match on Thursday at Onaway High School. Pictured left to right are: back: assistant coach Megan Estep, Breya Domke, Mattey Homer, Nicole Larson, Chloe Ehrke, Malaisya Van, Jackie Sellke and head coach Steve Watson; middle row: Taylor Larson, Mallorie Neelis, Jordan Larson, Malaurie McLean and Karli Tulgestke; front row: Calley Selke, Sunny Flory and Kennedy Crawford.

ONAWAY — Onaway’s quest for a district volleyball championship was capped off in dominating fashion on Thursday.

After sweeping its first two opponents in postseason play, the Cardinals left no doubt who the most dominant team in their district was as they once again earned a sweep, defeating Burt Lake Northern Michigan Christian Academy 25-9, 25-20 and 25-8 on their way to capturing a district championship for the first time since 2014.

“These kids have never won a district in anything. It used to be all that we could ever say in Onaway and now it’s gotten to a point where if we don’t win it feels kind of awkward so this one means a lot to these girls,” Onaway coach Steve Watson said. “They weren’t necessarily pushed in this district, so we talked about trying to enjoy the experience of playing a district and winning a district at home. Years from now, they won’t remember as much about the game, but they’ll remember the experience of playing their last home game winning a district final at home. It’s fun and I never get tired of winning championships, no matter what they are. We’ve definitely had a successful season, but we still have work to do.”

Thursday’s matchup wasn’t much different that Onaway’s previous two district games earlier this week. The Cardinals came out and dominated from the opening whistle and never let up.

Onaway scored the first five points in the opening set and despite the Eagles battling and cutting an early lead to two, it didn’t take long for the Cardinals to go on a big run.

News Photo by Jonny Zawacki Onaway senior Kennedy Crawford (3) hammers down a spike during the first set of a district championship volleyball match on Thursday at Onaway High School.

Behind strong serving from Malaurie McLean, Onaway scored 10 unanswered points to take a 20-6 lead and closed out the first set with no problem to take an early lead in the match.

“The girls really kept up the intensity through all nine of our sets in districts. I was worried the first night that we were going to come out flat and we didn’t. We played steady, hit the ball well and did all of the things you’re supposed to do well,” Watson said. “I’m sure the energy level wasn’t exactly what it might have been if we were in another match, but it was good, it was quality and we played pretty steady and their wasn’t a flat moment in the three days that we played.”

The Cardinals saw another opportunity to empty their bench and played much of the second set with a new players on the court.

New faces, but the result was the same as Onaway once again took the set despite not jumping out to a huge lead early on.

The Cardinals led 12-11 midway through the set, but later scored six straight points to take a 21-13 lead and put Burt Lake in a hole, eventually taking a commanding two set lead in the match.

News Photo by Jonny Zawacki The Onaway volleyball team is awarded its district championship trophy after the Cardinals claimed their first district title since 2014 by sweeping Burt Lake Northern Michigan Christian Aacademy on Thursday at Onaway High School.

The Cardinals put an exclamation point on a dominant performance in district play by finishing the way they began.

Onaway again jumped out to a huge lead thanks to some strong serving from Mallorie Neelis as the Cardinals once again opened with five straight points and seven of the first eight.

Onaway continued to build on its lead and finished its quest for a district crown by scoring 14 of the last 16 points to end the match in style and began the celebration.

“Most teams are done playing after this week and it’s special to win a district, especially on our home floor, not many schools can say that they won a championship on their home court,” Watson said. “I hope the crowd that we had tonight continues to follow us on the road. There’s a reason teams are able to win at home no matter what level, because there is a comfort level. To be able to win this in front of our own people is pretty special.”

Neelis led Onaway dishing out 17 assists and adding eight digs, six aces and three kills. Breya Domke had four kills, three digs and a pair of aces. Calley Selke recorded six kills and two aces, Malaisha Van finished with six digs and three kills, Cloe Ehrke had four kills and four digs, Mattey Hoerner also had four digs and added three kills. Taylor Larson ended the night with eight digs, Crawford finished with four kills and Jackie Sellke chipped in with seven digs.

The Cardinals advance to Tuesday’s regional semifinal game against Pickford in Mackinaw City.

“We have some film on our opponent so we’ll study that. It’s going to be different for these girls because they haven’t been in this situation before. The environment is going to get louder and louder and I like that. We have to learn how to react to that and we’re going to find out if we have enough experience, but most of the teams that we’re going to be playing, it’s going to be the same for them and they’re going to be in the same situation,” Watson said. “I’ve been down that road, but not all of the kids have been so all I can do is give them my wisdom and my assistant coaches who have been to a final four can talk to them about it to and help them understand that it’s still just a game between those lines.”

This 2018 team is hoping it can create some of the same history the 2014 Cardinals did.

The last time Onaway won a district title, the Cardinals rolled to the semifinals in Battle Creek and were among the final four teams in Class D.

“This team is different, because we had certain players on that 2014 team that the offense ran through and the other girls on that team complimented those star players. This group is still trying to figure out what winning is all about because they don’t have the experience of having done it in this sport,” Watson said. “The difference is the amount of experience playing at that high level when everything is on the line, but you win a district and you gain some of that.”