GAYLORD — It was a battle of attrition and the fight of a lifetime.
For the Kingsley Stags and Cadillac Vikings, the Division 2 volleyball regional final match was nothing short of an all-out war.
The Vikings and Stags wouldn’t give an inch to one another and blows were traded all evening, it just happened to be Austyn DeWeese who landed the knockout punch at Gaylord High School on Thursday.
DeWeese scored six of the Stags’ 15 points in the decisive fifth set, including match point, to give Kingsley a 3-2 win over the Vikings, who have won this regional nine out of the last 11 seasons.
The match was defined by the defenses and their ability to stifle the opponent’s attack and keep volleys alive. Every point was earned, not given, and Stags’ head coach Dave Hall was astounded by the effort given by both teams.
“I just can’t believe some of the volleys and how hard it was to score a point sometimes ... it was just a war,” Hall said. “Every point was like three weeks. The volleys were unbelievable for both teams. I mean we knew it was going to be close but that’s just crazy.”
The Stags fought tooth-and-nail through the final three sets after jumping out to a 2-0 lead. Kingsley looked like they had the title in hand in game one when they jumped on the Vikings and ran away with a 25-14 victory.
The Vikings wouldn’t let that happen again.
The teams traded points and were basically even until the score read 17-17 in set no. 2. Three hitting errors by the Vikings and a block by DeWeese put the Stags up 21-17 before Macy Brown found her fire. Brown swung away and tallied four straight kills, separated by a Sydny Hessem kill for the Stags, to bring the Vikings back and force the game to go into extra points.
Joslyn Seeley had a block and Renee Brines scored a point for Cadillac to tie the set at 26 before Brown tallied another kill to tie it at 27. The volley for the 28th point was an eternity but DeWeese eventually found a hole and terminated the ball twice in a row to give the Stags the 29-27 victory.
“Last year when we went down 2-0 we just kind of gave up,” Vikings head coach Michelle Brines said. “And especially losing a set 29-27, it’s kind of like you get punched in the gut and then you have to rebound from that. So for my kids to come back and push it to five and then just be two points shy says a lot about them.”
The Vikings used a five-point run that saw kills from Chloe Comstock and Brown in the third set to pull away from the Stags and win 25-21 to keep their title hopes alive.
Cadillac took control of the match during the third and fourth sets and the Stags began to get lethargic. The Vikings hopped to a 9-2 lead in set no. 4 but the Stags kept battling from behind to give them a scare.
The Vikings allowed Kingsley to go on an 8-2 run and tie the set at 21-21 before hitting errors got the best of the Stags and Comstock put the stamp on the set with a kill to make it 25-23.
“Coming into it there was a lot of pressure on us having won last year, but I think we really stepped up our game against them,” DeWeese said. “When Cadillac stepped up their game in the third and fourth sets it really made us step up our game and bring home those rallies that would go on forever.”
DeWeese, who said she is still not at 100 percent after an abdominal injury, had a kill and a block that put the Stags up 7-3 in the final set and they held the lead from there to win 15-13.
“I’ve never seen such a gutsy win,” Hall said. “They are running on fumes and playing on sheer guts and heart on both sides. I just can’t believe the digs we had and then they still had something left to jump and to get off the floor and block. Some of the digs we had were as good as we’ve had all year and we had a dozen in each set.
“It’s just guts, there’s no other words. The guts, heart and adrenaline ... we were not gonna let the ball hit the floor and neither were they, one play or two plays difference and that whole match changes.”
The Stags defeated Cadillac in the regional final last season, which was the Stags’ first win over the Vikings in school history — Thursday marks the second.
“For a while there it was like I just wanted to do it (beat Cadillac) once before my career was over,” Hall said. “I came in this year like well maybe twice. Twice would be nice. It’s a big win for our program, they’ve dominated not only us but the entire region winning nine out of 11. To be able to play up to their level shows we’ve improved a lot.”
The Stags were led by Brittany Bowman with 27 digs and 26 kills, DeWeese added 18 kills and three blocks, Maddie Bies tallied 49 assists and 20 digs, Lark Jankewicz had 41 digs and two aces and Sidny Hessem had 35 digs, 15 kills and a block.
Cadillac junior Macy Brown had 35 digs and 28 kills to lead all hitters. Comstock tallied 28 digs and 16 kills while Maggie Niess had 10 kills. Joslyn Seeley made 51 assists and libero Makenna Bryant dug up 28 balls. Renee Brines also had 20 digs and Marne Fox had 16.
Kingsley will face Freeland, who beat Birch Run 3-1 on Thursday, in the state quarterfinals at Ionia on Tuesday. The Stags fell in the quarterfinals last year but Hall and the Stags think they are more prepared for what is to come following their second straight regional title.
“Last year I think we were so happy to get past Cadillac we kind of didn’t play our best game in quarters,” Hall said. “I think this year may be a little different mentality going, instead of just happy to be there it’s like let’s go down and try to win.”