MIDLAND — Traverse City West had won every district and regional match this season in three straight games.
Faced with a daunting 0-2 deficit in Tuesday’s Class A state quarterfinal at Midland, the Titans tried to win three straight once again.
West went two-thirds of the way, forcing a decisive fifth game before falling to repeat Final Four entrant and No. 6-ranked Northville, 17-25, 14-25, 27-25, 25-22, 13-15.
“We definitely fought back,” Titans coach Emily Baumann said. “We started a little slow, like we normally do. But we definitely played out of our minds the last couple of games. You can’t ask for anything more. If you’re going to go out, at least you go out fighting.”
West suffered a setback almost right off the bat, as outside hitter Kimmy Bilinski left the match with a left foot injury in the first game, with Northville up 17-12. She didn’t return, and was later on the bench with crutches.
“Kimmy is a solid passer, solid everything, so it definitely hurt us,” Baumann said. “But Maggie (Gray) stepped up big time and played awesome.”
Led by outside hitter Symone Abbott, the Mustangs looked poised to take the match quickly after 25-17 and 25-14 victories to start things off.
“I even told them, when I coached before, we were down 2-0 and came back and won it in five,” Baumann said. “That was in my first year of coaching. We ended up going to the semifinals that year. I knew it wasn’t over and they just had to believe in themselves and step up and start playing. And they did.”
Then TC West caught fire.
The Titans jumped out to a 7-3 lead in the third game. Northville would retake the lead 22-19 before the Titans closed with an 8-3 run including a stuff block and back-to-back kills from Katie Placek to win 27-25. Mikenna Ray gave West the win with an ace to finish off the comeback.
The Mustangs sped out to a 9-4 fourth-game lead before an 8-2 Titan run spurred by two Mattison Mokanyk kills and three from Placek.
Placek would close out the win with two kills to force a decisive fifth game with a semifinal berth on the line.
“Traverse City West did an excellent job of changing their game to help expose some of our weaknesses,” Northville coach Amanda Yaklin said. “And they executed it very well. So we made an adjustment and changed our rotation a little bit. It was able to cover some of those weaknesses a little bit. But it was an excellent match. They’re an excellent team. It definitely wasn’t a walk in the park.”
A slow start put West in a 7-1 hole to start the fifth, including three aces by Northville’s Makenna Strunk. It was only the second time this season the Titans had gone to five games. They won their only other such meeting against Cadillac.
“You know that last game is only to 15, so you have to get on top of it right away,” Baumann said. “And we started down 7-1. If we wouldn’t have started down, who knows what kind of different match that would have been.”
West pulled within a point at 13-14 on a block before the Mustangs were able to get the final point to seal the deal. Northville (51-11-12) will be in its second straight Final Four after earning the school’s first semifinals appearance last year.
The Mustangs played so many games because Yaklin split the team up into two eight-player teams for tournaments to develop more depth. That strategy helped Tuesday, as Northville subbed frequently and used 10 players.
“When we put those teams back together for the second half of the season, we took the best of both and ran with it,” Yaklin said.
Northville was paced by Abbott (29 kills, 11 digs, three aces), Rachel Zawodny (35 assists), Cassidy Minghine (16 digs) and Katherine Boss (25 assists).
The Titans finish the season 38-9-1 and lose three seniors — Anna O’Hara, Kelsey Boudjalis, and Bilinski, all of whom were starters.
West was led by Placek (21 kills, 13 digs, two blocks), Mokanyk (39 assists, seven kills, seven digs), Ray (six digs), Alyson Peters (nine digs), Boudjalis (two blocks), Gray (seven digs), Olivia Bishop (3.5 blocks) and O’Hara (17 kills, five aces).
“We definitely had a great season and I enjoyed every second of it,” Baumann said. “We’re losing three seniors, but Maggie just showed she can play right side. We have a another middle stepping up. We’ll definitely be missing our seniors, but hopefully we can rally back and be back here next year.”