TRAVERSE CITY — Renee Brines came out of the Cadillac locker room with new adornment.
A plastic Mardi Gras-style beaded necklace with a attachment saying “Eatin’,” made by teammate Macy Brown.
Cadillac didn’t exactly feast on Traverse City West in Wednesday’s volleyball match that’s essentially a de facto Big North Conference championship bout, but the Vikings definitely left full.
Cadillac posted a 3-2 (16-25, 25-20, 25-19, 16-25, 15-10) victory to even the series at one apiece and forge a tie atop the BNC standings with one game to go. Both times the Vikings and Titans played, it went to five sets, each time with the visitor returning home with the win.
“All season it seems like if we get punched in the mouth, we’ll get up and fight some more,” Vikings head coach Michelle Brines said. “Even in the match at home when we lost in five to them. They just don’t quit, and they remembered that we gave three sets away at home when we had set point three times.”
TC West, ranked No. 10 in Division 1, visits Petoskey to close out the league schedule next Wednesday, the same night that Division 2 No. 3-ranked Cadillac hosts Gaylord in its BNC finale. Barring a slip up against foes they’ve already beaten once, the Titans (20-3) and Vikings (34-5) will finish 9-1 in conference play and share the Big North title for the third time in the last six years.
The Vikings claimed at least a share of the BNC crown in all six of those seasons.
“If we play them tomorrow, they probably beat us in five and then we play the next day, we beat them,” Michelle Brines said. “We’re pretty evenly matched. But, I was just an ecstatic. It was a big challenge for us.”
Both BNC teams could be there for each other in Battle Creek if things shake out in their favor. A reasonable path through regionals awaits each, possibly leaving quarterfinals between the league foes seeing each other in a cheering capacity at the Final Four in Battle Creek in different divisions.
TC West’s district consists of the Big North, minus Cadillac and with Marquette added in, meaning the Titans have beaten just about everyone in that bracket already. West then would head to a regional in Midland that has no other top-10 opponents.
Cadillac hosts districts, then also heads to a regional (which is currently without a host school) that likewise won’t feature another ranked foe.
The BNC leaders split the first four games evenly, with West claiming the first and fourth and Cadillac taking the second and third.
Cadillac led 3-0 early in the fifth, which Brines said was important.
“I said, ‘Listen, we’ve won every set that we’ve led,’” Brines said. “At home, we didn’t lead any of them. And I said, ‘We got to go out there and get the lead.’ Sure we got out 3-0, then it was threes, but I felt like we kind of set the tone to control it, because we jumped out first.”
The Vikings leaned heavily on Brown much of the match, but 6-foot-3 freshman Carissa Musta also came up big in the fifth set, with a block putting Cadillac up 12-9 and a kill putting the Vikings to match point. In between, Brown racked up a kill from the back row.
“She’s really grown since the last time we played them,” Brown said of Musta.
“We have a young group,” Brines said. “Macy and Renee lead the charge, but everybody else has to do their job. And we have tons of kids who have never been in this situation.”
West took charge early, running out to a 4-1 lead in the first set en route to a 25-16 win finished off by a Leah Allen kill. Allen and Becky Lane provided much of the offense, with Sara Schermerhorn providing back-to-back aces for a 20-14 lead.
“We came out like we were wanting to win,” West head coach Emily Baumann said. “We came out ready to play and we came out ready to win. And we were swinging aggressively and then after that, we started tipping and that did not work.”
Cadillac slowly built up in the second set, going up 12-7 on a Renee Brines ace. West clawed back to pull within three on a Makenna Ebling kill to trail 20-17 before Cadillac closed it out. Brown became much more involved, with eight kills.
The Vikings plowed out to a 12-6 in the third, as Brines had three kills herself (one on a block) from the setter position in a 5-0 run. Brown and Musta combined on a block to close out the set on an 8-3 run.
West forced the deciding fifth set by taking control of the fourth early on, with Alaina Mikowski blocking three shots in a row for points in a 9-0 run that put the Titans in charge 11-3. Cadillac would get as close as five before Ebling’s kill gave West a 25-16 win and sent the match to a fifth set.
“The fourth, that was really ugly,” Michelle Brines said. “We just gave up that huge run there in the beginning and there was no coming back from that. But to our credit, we didn’t let that carry over.”
West used short sets to keep Cadillac’s pair of 6-foot-3 blockers — Musta and sophomore Layke Sims — as well as the 5-foot-11 Brown from setting up blocks. Allen particularly took advantage of this tactic for numerous kills.
“They got us the first time; we got them in the second,” Brown said. “We had to switch it up a little bit, run a little more out of the middle because last time they’re like getting me on the outside. They do a really good job on defense.”
Brown led all players with 37 digs as the Titans served at her in the back row, which Baumann said wasn’t the plan.
“I kind of like serve receive because I know if I give Renee the ball, I’m getting it back,” Brown said.
Renee Brines added 15 digs, Julia Jezak 15, Angela Mo 13 and freshman Brooke Ellens 10.
Brown notched 31 kills in 48 attempts, with Brines adding eight kills and Caliey Messerang and Musta five each. Brines also put up 34 assists. Musta blocked seven shots, Joslyn Seeley three and Brown three. Mo led the Vikes with three aces, with Brines and Jezak added two each.
The Titans were led by Ally McKenna (31 digs, seven assists), Mikowski (six blocks, 10 kills), Lane (24 kills, two blocks, three digs), Allen (16 kills, three blocks, ace), Madelynn Johnson (11 digs), Madison Neu (five kills, three digs), Ebling (10 kills, 14 digs), Sammy Schaub (eight digs, ace) and Schermerhorn (52 assists, 22 digs, four aces, one block).