KINGSLEY — Confidence is key, and the Kingsley Stags volleyball team got a huge dose of it Tuesday night.
The Stags took out No. 2-ranked Leland in five sets to lock up at least a share of the Northwest Conference title and a confidence booster headed into the final stages of the regular season.
Kingsley won 22-25, 25-18, 25-22, 12-25, 15-5 and needed a hot start in the final set to put away a surging Comets team that closed the fourth set on a 22-4 run.
“This gives us the belief now that we can beat anybody,” Stags head coach Dave Hall said. “They are the No. 2 team in the state, defending state runner-up with six starters back so that team is legit. If we can hang with them we can play with anybody around.“
The win was No. 1,001 for Hall, who joined Leland head coach Laurie Glass as the only two coaches north of Saginaw with over 1,000 career victories, and was one he said he wasn’t sure his team would secure.
“With the momentum in this sport and the way the fourth set went I came out thinking what are we in for in the fifth,” Hall said. “We scored the first couple of points and I saw it in their eyes and said we got a real shot here.“
The Stags jumped out to a 4-1 lead in the fifth set thanks to two aces by Lexi Sattler followed by a couple of saves by the junior libero that forced Leland errors and spread the score to 8-2. The Stags defense was stellar all evening, counteracting the powerful hitting duo of Olivia Lowe and Tatum Kareck. Kingsley combined for 97 digs while forcing Leland into 37 hitting errors and tallying 67 block touches at the net.
“I kind of thought of it as our last game and our last set ever,” Sattler said. “You can’t hold back anything and have to put all of your effort into the last game no matter what the score.”
Kingsley cruised to the victory after the six-point lead and rebounded from the 25-12 dredging in the fourth set. Hall said he told his team to play like they had nothing to lose with the score tied at 2.
“Leland and Kingsley, we are going to go four or five games and it doesn’t matter who we have that is just the way it goes,” Hall said. “They played all over the place and were just unbelievable. That’s the best defense we’ve played and honestly we hit better than we have all year.”
The Stags defense fed into a flowing offense that had five players record at least four kills and capitalized on 10 aces.
A packed masked-up crowd at Kingsley factored into the final set as Glass noted her team hasn’t had to deal with that outside pressure all season long. The Comets looked to have the upper hand early taking a tight first game on the heels of Sarah Elwell, who scored four out of six points to spark the late run to give Leland a 25-22 win. Kingsley responded with back-to-back wins before dropping the fourth game.
“I thought that we had a lot of unforced errors and that they touched an unbelievably large amount of balls,” Glass said. “All the stuff that just was bouncing in the right direction puts pressure on you to feel like you have to do more and I didn’t think we responded to that pretty well. You have to give all the credit to their tenacity to dig a lot of balls.“
Coral Bott and Sattler led the Kingsley defense with 23 digs each, Bott led all Stags hitters with 10 kills. Olivia Esman had seven kills and four blocks, Alayna Heiler had 24 assists and 11 digs, Tori McIntosh tallied 21 digs and eight kills, and Miranda McPherson added three blocks and two kills for Kingsley.
Leland was led by Lowe with 22 kills followed by Elwell with 15 and Kareck with 12. Lowe held down the back line with 32 digs while libero Mia Osorio had 26 and Kareck added 17.
“It is good to be under this kind of pressure,” Glass said. “I have no ability to apply that kind of pressure in practices. It’s a really good opportunity to feel what this pressure feels like and then do some self reflecting about what we were feeling in those moments so that next time we can do something about it.”
The Stags (19-5, 6-0 NWC) and Comets will meet again in the ABCD quad on Oct. 26 but it will be a non-conference matchup. The Stags need to beat Buckley on Oct. 20 to secure the conference title.
“It was kind of a shock to me, we have been talking about how good Leland is and at first we were a little nervous,” Sattler said. “I guess it just shows us that we can accomplish anything when we play our game and we when we try our best we can accomplish whatever, no matter how good that team is, we can do it and we can beat them.”