BY DENNIS CHASE
---- — LELAND — Make it three in a row for the Leland Comets.
Sparked by seniors Noa Yaakoby and Caitlin McKee, Leland captured its third consecutive Class D district volleyball title Thursday night, turning back Traverse City Christian 25-22, 25-8, 25-20.
Yaakoby — who had 12 kills, two aces and eight digs — was playing with a heavy heart. Her mother passed away earlier in the day from cancer.
“It was nice to have Noa with us,” Leland junior Whitney Schaub said. “It was nice to be a team — and win. We pulled through. We were strong for our teammate. We kept together.”
The Comets were tested, particularly in the first game. Leland was clinging to a 23-22 lead before scoring the last two points, a kill by Eva Grobbel ending it.
“They put up a lot fight in that first game,” Leland coach Laurie Glass said. “It could have been anybody’s game. I thought everybody was digging a lot of balls and it makes for exciting volleyball.
“We were hitting the ball well. We were running a pretty complicated offense, but they weren’t letting anything drop on the floor. You have a tendency to want to do more when (teams) are doing that. It was nice for us to stay in our own thing, and do our own thing well, and not try to create great plays — just do what we know how to do best.”
The Sabres had trouble handling Leland’s serve in the second game, one in which the Comets jumped out to a 14-1 lead. Leland had 11 aces in the game.
“Our serves got more aggressive,” Schaub said.
Leland struck early in the third game as well, building a 7-1 cushion. But Christian fought back, closing to within 22-20 late.
“I’ve got great players,” Sabres coach Jodi Cannon said. “The girls really wanted this win. (Leland’s) a long-standing rival.
“We got outplayed, and that’s OK. It’s all part of the learning process. The girls have gained so much throughout the season. They’re amazing. They played their hearts out. I’m very proud of everything they did tonight. Everybody makes errors. Congratulations to Leland and to Laurie. She’s s an amazing coach. I have the utmost respect for her.”
It was Christian that ended Leland’s district domination three years ago, winning in 2010. The Comets, though, have bounced back.
“I couldn’t be happier that we won the district,” Glass said. “I thought it was a great match.”
Glass was not surprised Christian rallied to give the Comets a battle in the third game.
“That’s a sign of good coaching,” she said. “Jodi’s done a great job with that program. They have a lot of young kids. Abryanna (Cannon) is 13. There’s a bright future for them.”
As for Leland’s future, Bear Lake now awaits in next week’s regional at Buckley.
In addition to Yaakoby’s 12 kills, Madison Trumbull added 10. McKee set the hitters up with 28 assists to go along with five aces and three digs.
“Caitlin was spectacular,” Glass said.
Heather Burns contributed three kills, four aces, four digs; Felicia Whittaker three kills, three digs, 12 blocks; Schaub six digs, two aces; and Miranda Harrison four aces and five digs.
For the Sabres, Cannon finished with three kills, two blocks, two aces; Shannon Ufer six kills, one ace; Maddie White three kills; and Rylee Price two kills.
The Sabres only have two seniors on the roster.
“We’ve got a strong team coming back,” Jodi Cannon said.