TRAVERSE CITY — Someone must have called 1-800-Mrs. Dig to the Traverse City St. Francis gymnasium on Thursday.
The Gladiators and Leland Comets seemed to be donning shovels in the fifth set of their match on Thursday as neither team would let the ball hit the ground inside their half of the court.
The back-and-forth fifth set fell in St. Francis’ favor with the Gladiators winning 15-11 and taking the match 3-2.
Leland and TCSF traded points in the last set until it was tied at nine. Campbell Domres started the final push for the Glads with an ace to break the stalemate before senior Maddie Connolly took over. Connolly went on to tally two kills and a block for a point, scoring three out of the final four points for TCSF.
“I think it shows how good we really are,” Gladiators first-year head coach Kathleen Nance said. “I think we’re surprising some people already early in the season and we still have a lot of work to do. But this is going to help give us that confidence to know that we are a great team that can potentially make it really far.”
The match looked to be in the Gladiators favor from the jump as they took game one 25-13 and game two 25-17. They hopped out to early leads in both sets with Kaylin Poole making the difference on offense for the Glads. Poole had four kills before you could blink and the Glads were up 11-4 early in game one and 11-5 in game two.
Poole, whose older sister Brenna graduated last year, stepped into the lead outside hitter role and embraced it with open arms. She totaled 20 kills and moved to the back line in grind time to tally 17 digs.
“It feels amazing, because I’ve always like looked up to Brenna and Molly (Mirabelli),” Poole said of her team putting the offensive weight on her shoulders. “Now that I feel like I’m one of them, it means a lot to me. It’s so nice because my coaches and everyone’s been there to support me.”
TC St. Francis took a backseat to the Comets in games three and four. Leland stepped up their defense and began to settle in after being backed into a corner, something head coach Laurie Glass was happy to see.
“I couldn’t be happier with our showing,” Glass said. “It would have been very easy in the third set to sort of roll over and say thank you very much and go home. I think it’s really good early in the season to decide or find out about yourself that you don’t have to let that be the thing and to turn it around and understand that you’re capable of turning it around. It allows you the next time to not sit in it so long before you decide to turn around.”
The Comets did a 180, turning the pressure onto the Glads and eliminating unforced errors that led to their demise early. The final set was a testament to the adjustments Glass made and it pushed the Glads to the brink.
“Leland is always a great team to play, they bring a ton of energy and they’ve got good coaching,” Nance said. “So they had made some adjustments in their lineup that made it a little more challenging for us. They did a really good job there. I’m just happy with the girls and the way that they finished.”
The Comets started mixing rotations in the final sets, giving the Glads a different look that made it hard for Poole and Connolly to get balls to the floor.
“I think they’re really starting to gel and we’re trying to find our rhythm about who to have on the floor,” Glass said of her young squad. “I had a myriad of different people out there trying to find the right combination to even slow down Kaylin in the slightest and get a block up there that was touching balls. Everybody sort of picked up and play their roles.”
Leland won game three, 25-22, and game four, 25-15, before the shovels came out for set No. 5.
The digs abounded as two Comets and two Gladiators each finished with 20 apiece. Tatum Kareck and Mia Osorio were the dutchesses of dig for the Comets and Connolly and Laura Gallagher each had 20 for TCSF.
Hannah Sidorowicz had 35 assists, Gallagher three aces and Connolly nine kills for TCSF.
Kareck also notched 17 kills and four aces for the Comets. Olivia Lowe recorded 16 digs and seven kills and Sarah Elwell added eight kills for Leland.
“For this group, being young and only having one senior, I think that this is great and bodes well for the future,” Glass said. “Sometimes it is a little painful in the moment but for me the win is not as important as the lesson we learned about ourselves and being able to make the outcome different.
“We have morphed all season long. So I would say that right now this early in our season, we are really on track to sort of be much better at the end of the season than we are now.”
The Gladiators and Comets will see each other again in the ABCD Quad at Kingsley just a week before districts begin. As for the beginning of the season, the Gladiators think this win will carry into the rest of the year.
“It honestly makes us feel like we have more confidence after we beat such a good team like Leland,” Poole said. “It definitely helps us during our season right now, just gives us that confidence and that boost.”