McBAIN — Things looked pretty bleak for the St. Francis volleyball team after the first two games of Tuesday’s Class C regional semifinal clash with Boyne City.
The Ramblers were rolling at that point. They slugged their way past the Gladiators 25-13 in a decisive game two and were just one more win away from advancing to the regional title match.
It didn’t happen that way, though. The Gladiators somehow came all the way back, rallying to take the final three games and keep their season alive, with a 23-25, 13-25, 25-18, 25-23, 15-12 victory.
St. Francis, which advanced to the state finals a year ago, faces perennial powerhouse Beal City on Thursday at McBain for the regional championship.
“I just told the girls to relax and do what you know you can do,” Glads’ co-coach Heather Simpson said of the talk she had with her players between games two and three. “If you don’t, we’re gonna go home.”
The message was heeded by the Gladiators, big time. They broke away in game three to post a 25-18 win, rallied to take a tense, seesaw game four by a narrow 25-23 margin and then rallied again to win the fifth game 15-12.
“The girls never stopped believing in themselves,” Simpson said. “For whatever reason, we were very flat in the first two games. When we finally got into a groove starting in game three, we started playing pretty good.”
Sophomore outside hitter Madeline Rysztak took the first two games to get warmed up and then was a rocket launcher at the net. She fueled the offensive fire in the final three games, generating one hard smash after another, often with sweet setups from teammate Megan Knudsen, while finishing with a game-high 24 kills.
In game four, she launched back-to-back kills during a run in which the Glads rallied from a 19-16 deficit to tie the match at 21 and she also scored the final point. In game five, she delivered an ace to give St. Francis a lead it would not relinquish. Her final kill of the night put the Glads on top 13-10.