MANTON — “Play like us.‘
That was the message Mesick coach Stacy Quiggin delivered to her volleyball team between the third and fourth sets of Tuesday’s Division 4 quarterfinal clash with Fowler played at Manton High School.
The Bulldogs forged a lead with a tense 25-22 victory in the first set but had played inconsistently in the next two sets and had watched Fowler close stronger in both to take a 2-1 lead. Now, with the fourth set looming and possible elimination from the playoffs, Quiggin admonished her players to relax and to play in the manner that had brought them 23 wins and district and regional titles leading into the match with Fowler.
The message got through, loud and clear. The Bulldogs rallied from behind to take the critical fourth set 25-23 behind timely service runs from Kaylee Carson and senior Trinity Harris and timely returns during the final stretch from Grace Quiggin, Lexy Abraham and Kelsey Quiggin along with a key block from Shannyn Spencer.
Then the Bulldogs, playing with a truck load of momentum, took an early lead in the final set, going on top 6-3 following a volley that included a remarkable running save from Harris in the back row and another well-placed return from Grace Quiggin, and they ultimately parlayed the lead and the momentum into a 15-10 triumph.
Then it was time to celebrate.
“It’s just insane to think of little Mesick being in the Final Four,‘ coach Quiggen smilingly told reporters after sharing lots of hugs with her players along with some tears and high-fives at mid-court.
“After we got down (following the third set) I told the girls we’re not playing like us. We’re playing too tentative at times and other times we’re trying to do too much. We don’t have to play bigger than ourselves. Just play like us. Be aggressive and communicate on the floor. Just play like you can, lay it all on the line, and we’ll be fine.‘
The final scores were 25-22, 18-25, 22-25, 25-23, 15-10.
Mesick (24-2) takes on perennial state powerhouse Battle Creek St. Philip on Friday at noon at the Kellogg Arena in Battle Creek. St. Philip edged Lansing Christian in five sets on Tuesday. The winner of the semifinal match Friday advances to the state finals the following day at 10 a.m. against either Auburn Hills Oakland or Carney-Nadeau.
The Bulldogs earned their regional championship back on Nov. 12 with a forfeit victory over favored Leland, another perennial state power in volleyball. Mesick, to its credit, made the best of its opportunity to vie in the quarterfinals, rallying to earn the tense five-set victory over a Fowler team that was missing some of its starters because of COVID protocols.
Both teams had to overcome rust playing in their first actual match in two months but the flow of the play got better on both sides as the match went along.
By the fourth set, though, it appeared Fowler had the momentum after closing out the third set on a strong note. Mesick showed resilience, however, rallying from a 19-16 deficit and a 23-21 deficit to finally claim a tense 25-23 win and force the fifth set.
Kaylee Carson had two of the Bulldogs five aces in the match and they both came at important junctures. Carson’s ace in the fourth set tied the match at 20 and concluded a run of four straight points. Carson’s ace in the fifth set gave Mesick a 13-8 advantage and helped to thwart a potential Fowler comeback.
Harris, who uses a jump serve technique, was at the line for the conclusion of both the fourth and fifth sets. She made 17 of 18 serve attempts in the match with an ace and she also had 10 digs and five kills. Her running save from the back row in the final set also preserved a point and gave the Bulldogs a 6-3 lead and enabled them to maintain momentum.
“Coach always tells us that every point is important and I didn’t want to give up on that volley,‘ she said. “After we got that point, it felt really good and I think we all felt a little more confident with the three-point lead.‘
Libero Kaylee O’Neill also made a key save later in the fifth set to keep what turned out to be a winning volley alive, enabling the Bulldogs to take a 10-6 lead at that point. Carson’s ace followed soon after and senior middle hitter Grace Quiggin’s well-placed return.
“It feels pretty cool,‘ Grace Quiggin said. “We had the chance to get down after we fell behind but we stayed focused and stayed positive. We just took it one point at a time.‘
Harris said one secret to the Bulldogs’ success this season has been the chemistry among the girls.
“We’ve become so close this year,‘ she said. “We really like each other and we’ve grown together so much.‘
Kelsey Quiggin (11) and Lexy Abraham (10) led the Bulldogs in kills. Grace Quiggin secured seven and Harris had five. Spencer earned three blocks. O’Neill recorded 17 digs and received 35 serves in the long match. Kelsey Quiggin had nine digs. Abraham earned 13 assists.