By MIKE ECKERT
TRAVERSE CITY — St. Francis senior Kaitlyn Hegewald was only 2 years old the last time the Gladiators won a regional volleyball trophy.
So Thursday's win was pretty historic.
On its home court, St. Francis won the Class C regional title for the first time since 1997 with a 25-11, 25-13, 25-22 victory over Johannesburg-Lewiston.
"It feels amazing," Hegewald said. "We worked really hard. We hustled and played our game. So this feels really good."
The Gladiators (40-7-3) will take on Calumet on Tuesday in the state quarterfinal at TC West. The Copper Kings swept Iron River West Iron County on Thursday.
"What's cool is our kids are about making their own history," Glads co-coach Heather Simpson said. "We didn't even talk about when the last time was they won one. To us, it doesn't really matter, because it's our own journey. We've just got a really good group that believes in each other. And they don't take the foot off the pedal."
St. Francis got off to a hot start in each of the first two games. The Glads opened with a 12-1 lead in the first game and were up 7-0 in the second before winning each one outright.
"We stayed in the same routine even though we didn't have a game before us," co-coach Rita Jones said. "The girls warmed up in the place they normally do when games are going on. We stuck to our routine and told them to come out strong and try to get under their skin. They did."
Johannesburg-Lewiston clawed back in the second game and closed the gap to 12-10.
"This season we've been a slow-starting team," Cardinals coach Kristine Peppin said. "It's hard to get down even one game and expect to come back. At the same time, our resiliency has brought us back."
The Cardinals, who hadn't lost since Oct. 9 prior to Thursday's match, played close the whole way in the third game and took the lead three times — including as late at 19-18.
"They were a very scrappy team and they didn't let anything hit the ground," Jones said. "We were hitting it hard, but they were putting it back at us. Plus, they've got some good servers too."
"We showed in Game 3 that we weren't going to give up," Peppin said. "We did the same thing on Tuesday. We were down a couple of games and fought back. I give the girls a lot of credit. They're willing to go after it no matter what the score is."
St. Francis called a time-out when Joburg took its 19-18 lead. Bridget Bussell then tied the match with a kill and a couple of Cardinals errors gave SF a 21-19 lead. From there, Haley Bussell notched an ace, Joburg had a couple of misses and Bridget Bussell ended the match on a big kill off a Hegewald assist.
"It's very nice," Hegewald said of setting up Bussell for a timely kill. "I have a lot of great hitters to choose from, so it's awesome."
Hegewald ended with 26 assists, four kills and six digs. Bridget Bussell had 18 kills and nine digs, Sophie Spencer had four kills, Madeline Rysztak had six digs and was 23-for-24 serving, Olivia Hardy had three blocks and Megan Seida had 12 digs.
"When we took this job in August, we told them that we could be here," Simpson said. "Coach Rita and I really believe in them, and the power of positive thinking. It was getting them to believe and once they did, things just aligned."
For Johannesburg-Lewiston, Abby Schlicher had a big night in the front row, thanks to Julia Nieman running the offense. Tiffany Nickert was strong from the serving line, especially late in the third game.