Ready for a challenge

Onaway faces No. 10 ranked Rudyard for regional championship

News File Photo Onaway’s Kennedy Crawford (3) and Calley Selke (4) block a ball during the first set of a regional semifinal volleyball match on Tuesday at Mackinaw City High School.

The ‘Sweet 16’ are left in the Division 4 volleyball playoffs.

For the Onaway volleyball team, their postseason journey has been real sweet as the Cardinals have put together four stellar performances in each of its four postseason matches.

Onaway is a perfect 12-0 in sets so far in the playoffs, having swept all four of their opponents by a comfortable margin to get to tonights regional championship game.

Onaway head coach Steve Watson knows that what’s happened to this point doesn’t matter and he needs his team to be focused to the task at hand tonight as the Cardinals will face their toughest challenge to date, in tonights regional title bout against No. 10 ranked Rudyard.

“We’re looking forward to the challenge. It’s been a pretty even matchup when we’ve face them (Rudyard) over the last few years,” Watson said.” They’re tenth ranked and we’re honorable mention, but none of that matters now.”

Like the Cardinals, Rudyard is also undefeated this postseason as they are 9-0 in sets. The Bulldogs were tested by Pellston in Tuesday’s regional semifinal match and needed a comeback in the third set to sweep the Hornets.

Much of Rudyard’s success comes around the net as senior Cierra Molina causes problems for opposing teams with her height and ability to spike the ball around the net. Seniors Emilee Curtis, Rachel Beelen and Sydnie Zeeryp along with junior Nina Alpers are all lengthy and can cause problems around the net, but Watson and the Cardinals believe they have the ability to limit Rudyard’s ability to attack at the net.

“We know that they obviously have a huge height advantage over us, but we do a pretty good job of keeping the ball out of the net and that’s what we’ll need to continue doing against them,” Watson said. “We don’t put a lot of junk into the net and I think if we can continue to serve tough, that will be how we can eliminate some of their height. If we serve the ball tough, they won’t be able to set the ball up the way they want to and that will really even the playing field.”

Onaway’s best performance to date came in its regional semifinal win against Pickford.

The Cardinals played flawless and coasted to another convincing win.

It has been a total team effort thus far in the postseason as Onaway has received contributions in many ways from its entire roster.

The Cardinals’ three seniors, Kennedy Crawford, Calley Selke and Sunny Flory have all rose to the occasion and played strong to help Onaway get to this point.

Setter Mallorie Neelis has done a sensational job putting Selke, Crawford, Flory and Breya Domke in position to attack at the net.

Jordan Larson and Malaurie McLean have also come up big for the Cardinals and the team is playing its best at the right time.

“We’ve been upset in districts the last two years, but none of that matters. What matters is how good the teams are on Thursday and I think we are capable of winning. We just have to go out and execute,” Watson said. “I like to think that our defense is better than most teams that are left and that’s a bonus for us as well. We play for long rallies and nothing fazes us and that could be another advantage to playing a taller team like them who may just be used to setting the ball up and spiking it down with no return. That could also play in our favor if we’re able to continue keeping long rallies going.”

Onaway’s confidence level is high, but Watson and the team remains focused and isn’t worried about anything other than what they do between the lines.

The Cardinals are looking to win their first regional championship since the 2014 season which ended in a trip to the final four at Kellogg Arena in Battle Creek.

The winner of tonights regional title game will advance to a state quarterfinal matchup on Tuesday against the winner of the regional 25 matchup between Munising and Carney-Nadeau.

“I always see things that we can fix and do better. I look at how many mistakes we made that were avoidable, but I know every team does that and we just have to make fewer mistakes than our opponents,” Watson said. “I think our girls feel confident. We feel like we can play with anybody in Division 4. You have to go do what’s inside the court, but I’d say they have a good confidence level and are far from over confident. I think the girls feel like it’s our region.”