By JAMES COOK firstname.lastname@example.org
Traverse City Record-Eagle
---- — BATTLE CREEK — Leland’s volleyball season started and ended in the same place.
After the Comets began the campaign with a tournament in Battle Creek, coach Laurie Glass spoke to the team about a return trip in November.
The round-trip may have ended a couple days earlier than the Comets hoped, but they said it was a nice ride.
Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes ended Leland’s season Thursday in the Class D state semifinal at Battle Creek’s Kellogg Arena 25-21, 28-26, 25-21.
“We started out here with the tournament,” senior outside hitter Noa Yaakoby said. “And came back here.”
“We actually started talking about this Day One of practice,” Leland coach Laurie Glass said. “As we started our first match in Battle Creek, we said we wanted to have a round-trip ticket back to Battle Creek. And they achieved that. They set their minds to that and never looked back.”
Waterford (41-5-6) advances to its first state final in program history to face Battle Creek St. Philip — which knocked off Crystal Falls Forest Park 25-14, 25-22, 25-17 — in Saturday’s title game.
“Their serving was clearly really aggressive,” Glass said. “They mixed it up. They made some service errors, which kept us in the games. They had 21 service aces, which is tough when it’s a tight game.”
The Lakers had six players with at least three aces, led by Courtney Wightman’s five and Kali Bagley’s four. Caitlin McKee had five for Leland (33-15-7), while Yaakoby produced three.
Waterford Our Lady jumped out to a 10-5 lead in the third game, but Leland fought back to go up 12-11 on a Maddie Trumbull spike. The Lakers responded with a 10-3 run to go back in control. A Bagley ace ended it.
Leland had jumped out to a 5-1 second-game lead and extended that to 17-7. Waterford outscored the Comets 21-9 the rest of the way, but didn’t lead until 27-26 on a Kristina Krupiak kill. A Wightman ace ended it at 28-26.
“Volleyball is emotional,” Lakers coach Stephanie Swearingen said. “It’s a really up and down game. Winning that game really made us come together and we knew we could fight out the match. And it really propelled us in (game) three as well.”
The Comets held a 5-0 lead to start the first game and still led 16-14. Back-to-back Bagley aces eventually put the Lakers up — and they wouldn’t trail again in a 25-21 win.
“The girls walked into this match very determined,” Swearingen said. “You could tell in game one they had some nerves. We missed some serves in game two as well. But we were determined and started to serve tough, started to hit aggressively. And, boy, was that a fun comeback.”
A Leland win would have given the Comets their 10th state finals berth since 1979, when Glass was a player on the school’s first state championship squad.
“I’m proud of the tradition Leland has at the Final Four,” Glass said. “And these (girls) just brought it back to being possible. (It’s) inspiring to the young players at Leland who don’t remember those runs.
“These kids have been able to battle all year long. Right up to that last point, they don’t give up. … We just kept chipping away, one point at a time. They don’t know ‘quit.’ I’m very proud of their resiliency in tough moments.”
Yaakoby led Leland with 11 kills and nine digs, while Whitney Schaub chipped in 11 digs, McKee had 23 assists and seven digs and Heather Burns had five digs. Felicia Whittaker added four kills and a block and Trumbull had seven kills.
“This team has overcome some adversity and challenges on and off the court,” Glass said. “They have battled all year long. This is the closest group of kids, in terms of no drama, no issues.
“You worry what it’s like back in Leland when you have all the people here from town,” she joked. “But I couldn’t be prouder. I think it unites the community. It’s been awhile since they’ve had that feeling of putting together a community effort and it means the world to us.”
“I couldn’t be happier with the support we got,” Yaakoby said. “The whole community came out. I couldn’t ask for a better team to play on.”
Yaakoby — who missed the season’s first three weeks after her appendix ruptured — is looking to play collegiately next season. She said she’s looking at Alma College, Kalamazoo College and Concordia as of now.
“I went down to visit at Alma,” Yaakoby said. “I went to a practice, and it was awesome. My high school season is over, but hopefully college is just around the corner and I’ll be able to play then.”
Yaakoby is one of four seniors the Comets lose to graduation, joining Whittaker, Burns and McKee.
“We’ve got some young kids coming up who are going to be good,” Glass said. “It’s always about starting with a new group and developing chemistry.”
Last year was farthest Waterford Our Lady had advanced in volleyball, losing to Beal City in the quarterfinals. The Aggies moved up to Class C this year and plays Auburn Hills Oakland Christian in a semifinal today at 3:45 p.m., followed by Cadillac’s Class B semi against Grand Rapids South Christian at 5:30 p.m.