BATTLE CREEK — Old habits die hard.
The Leland Comets volleyball team would like to keep it that way.
No. 5-ranked Leland (44-14-3) made a habit of making the trip down to Battle Creek for the Final Four and routinely turned those chances into something more.
The Comets took down No. 10-ranked Rudyard 25-21, 25-14, 25-15 at Kellogg Arena on Thursday in the Division 4 semifinal, sending them to the 13th state championship game in school history.
“I think it starts with a really tough schedule,” Comets head coach Laurie Glass said. “I think that we play people that are better than us a lot of the time with the idea that when we get to this point in time that we’re tournament ready because we’ve been beaten up a lot. We have a lot of losses this year to some really fine teams, but I think we enjoy the battle and I think it prepared us for this.”
Defending state champion No.1-ranked Mendon defeated No. 4-ranked Southfield Christian in a five-set thriller in the first semifinal of the day, setting up the Comets and Hornets for a rematch of last year’s state final.
Comets juniors Mia Osorio and Olivia Lowe said in the postgame press conference they’re extremely excited for a chance at redemption after falling to the Hornets in straight sets a year ago.
Leland shook off the nerves and found their stroke on their serves early Thursday leading to a clean sweep of the Bulldogs (35-5-3). The Comets scored the first five points in the first set, setting the tone and asserting their experience over the Bulldogs — who made their deepest run in the tournament in school history.
The Bulldogs bit back, bringing the score to within a point on three occasions during the first set but kills by Olivia Lowe and Sarah Elwell cut a three point run by Rudyard to seal the game 25-21.
“I think it’s an advantage to have been down here,” Glass said. “I will say that I had to instruct and remember that six or seven of my kids have never been here. I had to remember to do some teaching about what it is that we do here and the routines for some of us that have never been here before.”
The Comets played like seasoned Final Four veterans in the second and third sets, blazing their way to another collision with Mendon.
Leland scored the first four points of set two and burst out to a 9-2 lead thanks to a couple Tatum Kareck kills. Gillian Grobbel notched two kills to bookend a small run by the Bulldogs, starting a 10-4 run for Leland that closed out the 25-14 win.
The Comets’ defense was stellar, allowing a mere 23 kills and a .070 attack percentage for Rudyard — the Comets totaled 42 digs.
“Leland is a powerhouse,” Bulldogs head coach Ellen Perry said. “We don’t see a team like that very often, we have to travel very far to see that level of volleyball.”
Leland really showed their dominance in the third set that was led by Olivia Lowe. Rudyard gained their first and only lead of the day when the Comets hit the net on the first volley of set No. 3.
The Bulldogs 1-0 lead turned into an 11 point deficit once Lowe started serving the ball. Lowe, Kareck and Grobbel each buried a kill to start the 12-point run and Lowe went on to tally five aces before the Bulldogs scored again.
Leland rode the hot start and incredible run by Lowe to an easy 25-15 final.
“It’s been a strength of ours all season,” Glass said of her team’s 13 aces. “We serve aggressively, not with speed necessarily as much as we try to force them to be out of system. That’s the goal and getting a lot of movement on our serves is important to us.”
Kareck led the Comets with 13 kills while making no hitting errors and notching a .500 hitting percentage. Grobbel tallied 11 kills, five digs and three aces while Lowe had 16 digs, nine kills and those five aces in the final set. Elwell also had seven kills.
Jana Molby set up 36 assists and had two of each aces and digs while Osorio had seven digs and three aces for the Comets.
Nina Alpers led the Bulldogs with eight kills and two digs and Sara Beelen added 10 digs, six kills and two aces.
The Comets will play Mendon at 10 a.m. Saturday and are looking forward to a full day to prepare as they will stop into a local high school to get a practice in on Friday.
The Hornets will rely on Western Michigan-bound outside hitter Anna Smith, who Leland saw in this spot last year and Glass gave high praises. Still, Glass will take her chances.
“I think a lot of people talk about everybody’s go-to players and I’m not sure you could identify for our team who the go-to player is,” Glass said. “So some would say that we don’t have somebody that could take over the game but others might believe that you have four legit options to go to anywhere on the floor. I have four really strong attackers. I don’t have an Anna (Smith), but that’s okay, I’ll take my four.”