MOUNT PLEASANT — Dow High’s volleyball team hadn’t lost a match against a Saginaw Valley League North opponent all season. And the Chargers kept that streak — as well as their hopes of a third straight district title — alive on Thursday.
Dow started hot, cooled off for a while, and then ended with a dominant flourish in sweeping Bay City Western 25-20, 25-22, 25-9 in a Class A district semifinal at Mount Pleasant High School. The Chargers (22-16-2) advance to face Midland High at the Chemics’ gym in Saturday’s 11 a.m. championship match, while the Warriors end at 22-26-2.
Chargers’ senior Brianna Talt broke into a smile when talking about a rematch with the rival Chemics, a team which Dow edged in a nail-biting five-setter in front of a huge and boisterous crowd to clinch the SVL North title on Oct. 20.
“Midland’s really tough. We barely won the first time (we played them). It’s going to be a close game, so we have to play our hardest,” said Talt. “ … Honestly, I think it’s going to be the same kind of intensity (on Saturday). It was very nerve-wracking out there (the first time we played Midland), because it was so close that you didn’t want to make a mistake. But you’ve got to push that (nervousness) aside and go hard.”
The Chargers certainly went hard early in Thursday’s match, reeling off eight consecutive points to jumpstart an 11-1 run and build a 14-4 lead in the first set against BCW. The Warriors answered, however, with four straight points to start a 10-3 run which cut the deficit to 17-14.
The set remained close down the stretch until Quinn McCaffrey put it away for Dow with a kill on the Chargers’ second set point.
“We came out strong in the beginning, and it looked like it was going to be an easy road, but then they (Western) came firing back and caught us off-guard a little bit,” said Chargers’ coach Amy Yuill. “So we had to do what we’ve had to do all season and fight back out of some holes. … (Our players) did a good job (of regrouping).”
The Warriors scored the first four points of the second set and eventually led 9-3 before Dow’s Nadia Atton sparked a 5-1 run with three kills, pulling the Chargers to within 10-8. Dow later ran off five straight points to take its first lead of the set, 16-15, and it was nip-and-tuck down the stretch.
The turning point came with BCW leading 20-19. The Chargers got a kill from Ariana Hempfling, a kill by Atton, and an ace by Atton to regain the lead for good, 22-20, and held on from there.
Yuill said she liked her team’s aggressiveness both on the attack and at the service line.
“I always tell (my players) that we don’t win on tips; we have to be aggressive in our play. They came out swinging, and they made great choices when we needed them to,” she noted. “ … And our serve has to be aggressive. If it’s not, (our servers aren’t) doing us any favors. We work on getting points as quickly as possible.”
Western coach Mike Ueberroth said he appreciated how his Warriors battled, adding that he would’ve liked to win the second set and see what might have happened.
“We gave them a really tough fight. We knew coming in that that was what it was going to take, that we had to be ready to battle them,” Ueberroth said. “And they (Dow) just made plays at times when we didn’t, and we made a few mistakes here and there.
“ … That would’ve been huge (if we had won the second set),” he added. “If we could’ve gotten game two, you’d like to think that that would’ve changed momentum, just to get a game from them. They haven’t been beaten (by an SVL North opponent). It would’ve been interesting to see what they’d do under pressure. But they handled (adversity) well. We got it close, but they’re one of those teams that bends but doesn’t break.”
By contrast, the third and final set was not close.
With BCW leading 3-2, the Chargers scored six straight points — including three consecutive aces by Atton — to start a match-ending 23-6 run. Dow scored eight of the final nine points to win going away.
“We didn’t start very well. … I don’t think we did our best (early on),” said Talt. “We weren’t working as a team at the beginning, but as we went on, it started flowing.
“Hopefully, that won’t be the case when we play Midland,” she added with a smile. “We need to start strong (on Saturday).”
Atton paced the Chargers with 12 kills and six aces, while Talt had seven kills and three aces, Sofia Lobo added four kills, Jillian Skinner dished out 24 assists, and Katie Underhill finished with 10 digs.
For Western, Paige Lloyd had 10 kills and nine digs, while Addison Bouza had four kills, Payton Boswell had 17 assists, Rachel Miller finished with 11 digs, and Kylie Williams added nine digs.
“It just came down to some execution errors (by us) at key times and a few runs that they (Dow) had,” said Ueberroth. “ … But I was really, really proud of the effort. (Our players) really fought hard.
“ … They just got some big hits when they had to,” he added of the Chargers. “They’re a good volleyball team.”
Yuill said she expects plenty of energy from her team on Saturday.
“It’s the last game of districts, regardless of who you play, but especially against Midland it’s going to be that much more emotional for players, and so I expect them to really step up their game and come out on fire,” she said. “ … This is that big finish for both teams, and we’re going to bring it.”