By JAMES COOK
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Traverse City Central played perhaps its best match of the season, and Traverse City West still won for the third time in as many meetings Saturday.
That’s not a knock on Central. Just a nod to West.
The Titans wrapped up a Class A district championship with a 25-13, 27-25, 25-19 win over the Trojans. West will head to regional action Tuesday at Grayling against Midland Dow.
“Winning districts two years in a row, especially being a senior and against Central — it can’t get any better than that,” West outside hitter Anna O’Hara said. “We’re really excited to be moving on. We’re really excited about our potential in the postseason.”
West (26-8-1) pulled away to win the first game, but the second was much closer, as neither team led by any more than three points and it was mainly a one-point lead one way or the other.
“The second game, we were up 23-20,” Central coach Mike Kelly said. “We needed to really finish that game off. If we could have, it might have been a little more fun the rest of the match. But they came back. They know how to win. But I was proud of our girls. They fought hard for every point.
“That, in our opinion, is the best match we’ve played this year. West is just that good of a team. They’re better than we are and had great energy in their gym. They’re well-coached. They have some real leaders on the floor — and they showed that when we put some pressure on them. They stepped up and answered.”
West was clinging to a one-point lead, 11-10, in the first game when O’Hara’s turn to serve came up. By the time she was done, the Titans held a 19-11 lead as she notched a pair of aces and slowed Central’s offense with low, dipping serves.
“Anna got on a huge run that took us off and really led our team,” West coach Emily Baumann said.
“It was fun to be able to step in and get something going for the team when we needed it,” O’Hara said. “I’ve been working on that all year.”
The third game was also tight until West took control on the serve of Kelsey Boudjalis, who also finished off the victory with a stuff block for West’s 25th — and final — point of the day.
“We have just realized this is coming to and end,” Baumann said. “The season is two more weeks — and that’s as far as you can go. These girls are so awesome and play so well together. On and off the court, they have such great camaraderie and they just don’t want it to end.”
The Titan defense thwarted Central attacks all afternoon, as Alyson Peters, Katie Placek, Kimmy Bilinski and Mattison Mokanyk were consistently digging up shots.
“Normally, our offense is what carries us,” Baumann said. “But I’d say our defense did well.”
Peters finished with a team-high 16 digs, while Placek had 13, Bilinski six and Mokanyk five.
“It was a good game,” Peters said. “We worked hard and it turned out to be a good game. We’ve been working on defense for awhile, trying to get everything straight.”
Mokanyk also ended up with 30 assists, six aces also three kills, while Placek had 12 kills and three blocks, Bilinski had a half dozen kills, Boudjalis had four kills and two aces, Olivia Bishop contributed three kills and two blocks and O’Hara had five aces and seven kills as the Titans closed out the season series without losing a game to their crosstown rivals.
Central (29-14-3) was led by Kiley Kowal, who had 11 kills and three blocks in her final prep volleyball game. Jessie Kuschner added two aces, five kills and two blocks, Irene Pozzi had 18 digs in her first game as libero, Devon Dotterrer dished out 11 assists, Carissa Bartkowiak had seven kills and two blocks and Callie Bartkowiak put up two kills, 10 assists and a block.
“When I looked up at the scoreboard and saw 23-20, I thought we were finally going to get a win on them,” Kelly said. “It was a battle all the way to the end. It’s one we really could have used. But the effort was there, and that’s all we really ask them to do. They really fought the whole way.”
Central’s JV and freshmen teams both had successful seasons, so Kelly hopes it’s a quick turnaround in replacing five seniors who all played large roles on this year’s squad.
“We have five sophomores who were playing out there,” Kelly said. “We’re definitely rebuilding the program. We have nine sophomores on the JV team that are good players. We’re looking to have a lot of fun in the next two years.”
For the Titans, it’s a new foe, new gym and new layer of the postseason.
Midland Dow is a team West hasn’t faced this year. And the game will also be on a floor on which the Titans have not played.
“Totally new, but we’re going to go in there and play like we did (against Central) with confidence and hopefully go far,” Peters said. “I’m so excited. I hope we go really far. We’ve been working really hard.”
“We have never won a state title,” Baumann said. “And I would love to be the coach of it. This would be the year. We have great seniors and a great group of girls. This would be the year if we’re going to do it.”