By John Raffel
Special to the Record-Eagle
BIG RAPIDS — The Leland Comets realized it wasn't going to be easy facing the six-time defending Class D state volleyball champion Battle Creek St. Philip Fighting Tigers and their Miss Volleyball standout Amanda McKinzie.
McKinzie delivered 14 kills as the top-ranked Tigers dominated from start to finish with consistent serving and virtually flawless net play for a 25-8, 25-11, 25-10 victory in the Class D state quarterfinals Tuesday night at Big Rapids High School.
It was a match-up of the two schools that met in the 2005 and 2006 finals with St. Philip winning the first time and Leland taking honors in the rematch.
That's the last time coaches Laurie Glass of Leland and Vicki Groat of St. Philip faced each other. This time, it was all St. Philip.
St. Philip, 73-2, returns to Battle Creek on Friday for the Class D semifinals. It took less than an hour for the Tigers to get the job done against Leland, which ends its season at 44-11-4.
"Leland is a great team and with Laurie Glass on the other bench, you have to be ready," said Groat. "She knows our weaknesses. She's a smart lady. We had to serve tough and we started serving tough from the beginning."
"They just served us off the court," Glass said. "We couldn't pass the ball. If you're going to give a team that good free balls, you're going to be in trouble. We knew we had to be aggressive and swing at every ball. I thought we could have passed better than we did."
In the first game, Lenae Lesiow served three straight aces for a 7-1 lead and the Comets were in a quick hole but battled back to cut it to 12-7. But St. Philip poured it on for a 13-1 advantage the rest of the way keyed by three straight aces from Sierra Hubbard Neil.
In the second game, Natalie Gallagher's block gave the Tigers a 9-5 lead and Casey Gallagher followed with a kill. Samantha Ellis' ace gave the Tigers a 15-6 lead and she had another ace moments later for a 19-6 advantage. Leland, sparked by an Andrea Hunt block and a Caitlin McKee, cut the Tigers lead to 21-11. But St. Phil rebounded with the 25th point coming on Hubbard Neil's ace.
"There were times where I said 'this is 100 percent serving, just get the ball in,'" Glass said. "We had to go for it, good bad or ugly and take swings. We didn't help ourselves because we couldn't pass. But they were serving difficult balls. I was trying to change my pass rotation as quick as I could."
Hubbard Neil opened the third game with 11 straight points, including three aces.
McKenzie's thundering ace gave the Tigers a 10-0 lead.
Analise Robinson served an ace for Leland and added three more points in a run that made it 11-5.
The Tigers stayed in control and led 16-6 on Samantha Ellis' kill.
Jaclyn Behnke's tip gave St. Philip a 21-9 lead and the Tigers put the match away with a 4-1 ending.
"This was a huge game for us," McKenzie said "We came out determined to win. We were energetic and it all worked out for us."
"I don't feel bad about our effort," Glass said. "They were hitting and we were digging and showed we could be there."
Olesnavage had seven kills and seven digs for Leland while Noa Yaakoby had three kills and two digs, McKee seven assists and Hunt five digs
"We've always had as an end goal to play our best against St. Philip," Olesnavage said. "We wanted to play our best. We never thought we couldn't win against them. We had an absolutely amazing season."