BATTLE CREEK — There’s a first time for everything and the Mesick Bulldogs did the best they could in their inaugural trip to Battle Creek for the volleyball state finals.

While Mesick didn’t come away with a win, falling to Battle Creek St. Philip in straight sets 25-13, 25-20, 25-19 in the Division 4 state semifinal, they did come away from Kellogg Arena with plenty more.

“We didn’t expect this at all,” Mesick senior libero Kaylee O’Neill said. “Our goal at the beginning of the year was win districts and pretty much since my freshman year that‘s all I wanted to accomplish playing volleyball, was winning a district for our school.

“This is a huge accomplishment for our school. This is the furthest any Mesick volleyball team has gotten, so I am really proud of all of us because we worked really hard to get here.”

The lessons learned along the treacherous journey through COVID-19 shutdowns and the school’s deepest postseason run will resonate with the program for years to come, according to head coach Stacy Quiggin.

The Bulldogs (24-3) fought tooth-and-nail through the semifinal with the Tigers (22-13), jumping to small leads in all three sets before St. Philip pulled away.

“This has been an unusual season and we haven’t been to very many tournaments, so we haven’t seen that level of competition very often,” Quiggin said. “So for us to run with them at some points and be ahead at certain points in the match, I’m proud of these girls for doing that. That’s an accomplishment for our program and this team.”

The Tigers jumped on the Bulldogs with a 25-13 first set victory that included 11 kills from Brooke Dzwik, the St. Philip outside hitter who dominated with 30 total kills Friday.

Mesick fought back and went toe-to-toe with the Tigers, who have a total of 20 state championships, in set two all the way to a 19-19 tie. St. Philip had help from Harleen Deol and Dzwik to close out the set, and notched two kills to close it out.

“We talked a lot about confidence and knowing that we deserve to be here with this team,” Quiggin said. “This group of girls could potentially do it and we ran with them. I’m proud we didn’t go out there and just be shell shocked and stop playing our game.”

The Bulldogs jumped to a 5-2 lead in set three, but only managed four kills in the final set, two of which came from senior Grace Quiggin to start the set and the other two from Trinity Harris that made it a 9-8 lead for Mesick.

The Tigers would pull away with an 8-1 run after going down 11-9 and never looked back on their way to the first state title appearance since 2015.

“Mesick is a very scrappy, unpredictable team from the film that I watched in the quarterfinals and even in today’s match,” St. Philip head coach Vicky Groat said. “When I watched the film Tuesday night I was nervous and afraid because they had a lot of height.”

Groat leads the Tigers to the 15th title appearance in her tenure.

The Bulldogs totaled 14 kills as a team and were led by Grace Quiggin and Harris with four each, Kelsey Quiggin with three and Lexy Abraham, Shannyn Spencer and Grace Hawk each tallying one.

O’Neill led the defense with 19 digs, followed by Grace Quiggin and Harris each with eight and Maggie Shermak six. Abraham had 13 assists.

“I do think that we did not let this environment and the higher level competition intimidate us, we did play our game,” Stacy Quiggin said. “We just came up short but super proud that they were able to do this.”

Follow Jake on Twitter @JakeAtnip

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