from staff reports
TRAVERSE CITY — It will not be easy.
St. Francis seeks its first state volleyball championship today when the Gladiators take on Monroe St. Mary at Battle Creek's Kellogg Arena.
The Class C state final starts at noon.
St. Mary, ranked No. 1, has captured three state titles, the latest in 2010.
"They're a solid team," Gladiators co-coach Heather Simpson said. "They have strong hitters, a strong middle. They don't have too many weaknesses."
St, Francis advanced to the championship game with a 23-25, 21-25, 25-19, 25-21, 15-13 semifinal win over Unionville-Sebewaing. The Kestrels defeated Concord 28-30, 25-16, 25-16, 25-19.
The Gladiators are riding a high after the come-from-behind triumph Thursday. Ironically, Simpson predicted prior to the season that the Gladiators could be in Battle Creek, competing for a title by season's end. That's how much confidence she and co-coach Rita Jones had in the team's talent — and its character.
"They're good kids, good athletes," Simpson said. "They're a special group.
"And they believe. We probably shouldn't have won Thursday, but because of who they are as people and players, that's the reason why we won."
The Gladiators just tried to stay relaxed Friday.
"Everybody is telling us to enjoy the moment and that's what we're doing — letting the kids enjoy it," Simpson said.
"It's going to be pretty cool (today). It's a compliment to our kids that we're here. They're so humble. I don't know if it's hit them that they're playing for a state championship."
Senior Bridget Bussell led the comeback win Thursday with 28 kills, 19 digs and four aces. Freshman Madeline Rysztak added 13 kills and sophomore Sophie Spencer 12. Spencer also had a team-high five aces. Senior setter Kaitlyn Hegewald contributed 46 assists.