Onaway prevails: Cardinals top Rudyard in thriller to win regional volleyball title

Cardinals top Rudyard in thriller to win regional volleyball title

News Photo by Jonny Zawacki The Onaway volleyball team poses after winning a Division 4 regional championship on Thursday in Mackinaw City. Members of the team include, from left to right, back: Breya Domke, Cloe Ehrke, Nicole Larson, Malaisha Van, Lexus Horton, Karli Tulgestke, Jackie Sellke and head coach Steve Watson; middle: Mattey Hoerner, Mallorie Neelis, Jordan Larson, Malaurie McLean and Taylor Larson; front: Calley Selke, Sunny Flory and Kennedy Crawford.

MACKINAW CITY–Throughout the postseason, neither the Onaway or Rudyard volleyball teams have been challenged much.

That all changed on Thursday when the two teams clashed for a Division 4 regional championship in Mackinaw City.

The match exceeded expectations and in the end it was Onaway who erased a 7-3 deficit in the fifth and final set and stormed back to capture its first regional title since 2014 with a sensational victory over Rudyard: 14-25, 25-23, 25-19, 18-25 and 15-13.

Onaway advances to a quarterfinal matchup against Carney-Nadeau on Tuesday at a location to be named later.

“This was the best game I have been a part of as a coach,” Onaway head coach Steve Watson said. “I’ve been made fun of for a long time because I’m very stoic on the sideline. I’ve done that years because I feel my players respond well to that. When that scoreboard turned to 15 after the fifth set, I cried.”

News Photo by Jonny Zawacki Members of the Onaway volleyball team celebrate after scoring the game-winning point in the fifth and final set.

The Cardinals trailed Rudyard 7-3 in the fifth set when Watson called a timeout to try and let his team regroup.

Onaway answered the call and scored three of the next four points to cut the lead to two before scoring five unanswered to take an 11-10 lead behind strong serving from Malaurie McLean who finished with 14 digs, four kills, four aces and two blocks.

The Bulldogs used a timeout and also responded by scoring three of the next four points to take a 13-12 lead.

Watson called one final timeout and the Cardinals finished the game in thrilling fashion, scoring the final three points after long rallies and a ruckus Onaway crowd witnessed a ball sail out of bounds to give the Cardinals their 15th point and a regional championship.

“Rudyard was halfway to 15 and looking tough, while we weren’t looking that great and we battled back and pulled it off. To win like that is really special,” Watson said. “We’ve won quarterfinal games, but this one was just really really special. It was great to be apart of and I’m so proud of the girls and how they found a way to win after how tough of a fight this was and how good Rudyard was. It’s just so special.”

It took some time for the Cardinals to adjust to Rudyard’s height around the net.

The Bulldogs closed the first set strong with their ability to attack at the net as the length of Rachel Beelen and Sydnie Zeeryp posed a huge threat to the Cardinals early.

Onaway made adjustments and did all it could to eliminate and limit Rudyard’s chances around the net as it battled to win a tight, back-and-forth second set and grabbed a lead in the match by winning the third set when Breya Domke finished the third set with three straight aces.

“Everyone saw tonight everything that Onaway volleyball practices and preaches. We needed to win those hustle points and we showed everything we stand for with how we were able to knock off a much taller team,” Watson said. “You can’t go toe to toe with a team like Rudyard because we don’t have a middle that can do what they do, so we needed to win those hustle points and we were able to do that.”

After taking a 2-1 lead in the match, Rudyard showed why it came in ranked tenth in Division 4 as the Bulldogs controlled much of the fourth set and won to fittingly send the match to a fifth and final deciding set.

“When you lose that first set, you feel the need to claw your way back and then you do and then you win the next two sets, the girls would never admit it, but I’ve been around the sport a long time and I’ll tell you there is a little bit of a let off,” Watson said. “The fact that we lost the fourth set, honestly didn’t surprise me. I was hoping we would finish it four and then we wouldn’t have had a nerve wrecking ending, but as the fourth set was unfolding, if someone would have told me we were going to be playing a fifth set against Rudyard, I would take it. I thought we could beat them, but I knew they were tough.”

Domke ended the night with 12 kills and five aces. Mallorie Neelis dished out 27 assists to go with 10 digs, six kills and three aces. Calley Selke recorded 15 digs, 13 kills and three aces. Kennedy Crawford had nine digs, six kills and five aces and Jordan Larson added 18 digs.