REMUS — A pitstop in Remus wasn’t much more than a bump in the road for a Leland team headed directly for Battle Creek.
The No. 5-ranked Comets (43-14-3) swept a 51-win team in No. 6 Merrill, winning 26-24, 25-21, 25-19 to book a trip to Kellogg Arena for the second straight year.
Instead of driving more than two hours back to Leland, the Comets headed straight for Big Rapids after Tuesday’s Division 4 quarterfinal win at Chippewa Hills High School.
“I’m really a firm believer that you don’t think beyond the match you’re playing,” Leland head coach Laurie Glass said. “At the same time, there’s logistics that have to be put in play. ... I don’t like to think that far ahead at all. It’s a sort of a standing joke with my coaches.”
Leland is set to practice Wednesday afternoon at Ferris State University, then take in the Michigan State vs. Michigan women’s volleyball game in East Lansing Wednesday night before heading to Battle Creek.
The Comets face No. 10 Rudyard in Thursday’s 2 p.m. semifinal at Kellogg Arena in Battle Creek. No. 1 Mendon — the team that swept Leland in last year’s state championship game — and No. 4 Southfield Christian face off in the other semi. Rudyard knocked off Carney-Nadeau in its quarterfinal.
While Merrill played in its first quarterfinal in 40 years, the Comets earned their sixth trip to Battle Creek in the last seven seasons.
Junior middle blocker Sarah Elwell, who led the Comets with 11 kills and three blocks, said the win is a big relief, as the Comets program expects to reach the Final Four every year.
Accomplishing that isn’t the ultimate goal, of course, but is one more goal to check off.
“Just getting to play in that arena is awesome,” Elwell said. “It’s so cool. It’s huge, and just getting to have some really good competition. So loud. It’s really loud.”
Leland’s unpredictable offense featured four players with seven or more kills, as the Comets moved from one hitter to another throughout the game. Senior Gillian Grobbel put up 10 kills, Tatum Kareck logged nine and Olivia Lowe added seven as Leland attacked from all angles.
Grobbel, the team’s only senior, said she knew things were going well when Elwell blocked a Merrill first-set attack on the way to finishing the point with a kill.
“When Sarah got that block at the end of the first set,” Grobbel said, “I knew we were looking pretty good.”
Merrill took its first lead at 23-22 on a Laney Wiley kill. Elwell responded with back-to-back kills for Leland on short sets, and Kareck served out the final two points, including an ace.
The Vandals led early in the second set before back-to-back Grobbel kills tied it 7-7. The Comets eventually took a 19-16 lead before Ashtyn Hescott’s kill pulled Merrill within a point at 22-21. A Kareck kill and consecutive Grobbel aces closed out the 25-21 win.
Leland never trailed in the third set.
“We talked about ebbs and flows of volleyball all the time,” Glass said. “It’s really important that when somebody pushes you that you push back that you don’t just take it in and try to regroup. You have to respond to a push with a push.”
Elwell had a few hitting errors, but the Comets went back to that well when it needed points, and the junior usually made it pay off.
“Sarah had a big night and was swinging well,” Glass said. “Mia Osorio was rocking it all over the court — covering, digging. She sort of dictated, which is how Sarah gets available. And the fact that Sarah just turns and can jump, it’s super important. She was assertive with her swings, as opposed to just trying to get it in. I thought she was making a statement.”
Grobbel’s 10 kills came with only three hitting errors. Comet players said multiple times this postseason that they’re playing to keep Grobbel’s prep career going.
“They’ve said that a few times,” Grobbel said. “I do like that, but I also feel like we should all play for each other more than just one person because we all deserve this.”
Jana Molby registered 35 assists, an ace, seven digs and a tip kill, while Osorio put up a team-high 23 digs to go with two aces. Lowe added 14 digs and two aces to her seven kills and Kareck notched nine digs and had just two hitting errors along with her nine kills. Jen Estrada contributed a half dozen digs as Leland used only seven players.
The Comets had eight aces and eight serving errors as a team, but their aggressive service often put the Vandals on their heels, scrambling to get the ball back up for an attack.
“We knew that was going to happen,” Merrill head coach Ann Wiley said. “I thought we did alright. They had a couple good runs and that kind of took us out of it.”