Traverse City Record-Eagle

November 9, 2013

Gladiators capture district crown

BY DENNIS CHASE dchase@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — KALKASKA — Traverse City St. Francis successfully defended its Class C district volleyball championship Friday night, beating McBain 25-17, 25-20, 22-25, 26-24.

The victory sets up a regional rematch with Boyne City on Tuesday in McBain. A year ago, the Gladiators won three tightly-contested games to oust the Ramblers in a regional opener.

Boyne City beat the Gladiators in the only meeting between the teams this season.

“We’ve improved the last couple weeks,” St. Francis co-coach Heather Simpson said. “We’re excited to be moving on.”

St. Francis appeared in control Friday after winning the first two games. But the Ramblers took game three and then wiped out a seven-point Gladiator lead in the fourth game to take a 23-22 advantage. St. Francis responded by winning four of the next five points to close it out.

“It’s a great feeling,” Gladiator outside hitter Madeline Rysztak said. “We worked so hard. This was our goal.”

The Ramblers battled back in the fourth game, cutting a 15-8 deficit to 15-14 with Rysztak in the back row. But a time out seemed to settle the Gladiators down.

“We had to play our game,” Rysztak said. “That was important. When we play our game we know we’re playing to the best of our abilities. That’s what we did.”

Rysztak finished with 13 kills and 12 digs. Sophie Spencer added 10 kills and 10 digs; Olivia Hardy six kills and five blocks; Haley Bussell eight digs; and Megan Knudsen 39 assists. Freshman Juliana Phillips made some big plays at the net for the Gladiators.

“We knew McBain was going to be tough,” St. Francis co-coach Rita Jones said. “They run a fast offense. We had to be on top of our game — we had points where we were, points where we weren’t. We’re going to learn from those.

“We missed some key serves, made some errors at key points. I think if we clean some of that up — and that’s part of being a young team — we’ll be a hard team to beat.”

Simpson, meanwhile, was relieved afterwards.

“It’s been a challenging year, a lot of ups and downs,” she said. “I couldn’t be happier. They played their hearts out. They really know the meaning of team. They stuck with it.”

The week ahead will be a challenging one for Simpson. She is also the girls basketball coach at Traverse City Central and practice starts Monday.

The Gladiators, who reached the state finals last November, are hoping to make another run. To do so, though, they’ll have to beat Boyne City.

“They’re a good team, we’re a good team,” Jones said. “It should be fun.”