BATTLE CREEK — “Be proud!”
Leland head coach Laurie Glass shouted to her team as she accepted the Division 4 state runner-up trophy Saturday in Battle Creek.
The Comets smiled and rallied around their coach and lone senior Gillian Grobbel, yelling loud so all fans at Kellogg Arena could hear their pride.
Leland fell to Mendon 25-17, 25-17, 27-29, 25-14 in the Division 4 state championship, marking the second straight loss in the title game at the hands of the Hornets.
“I thought we battled hard to get to this position and I’m super proud of the journey,” Glass said, “which I think is what we will remember most.
“Next year I have (almost) everybody back and some youngsters that are pretty good, so Leland volleyball looks good.”
The Comets left Battle Creek with a lot to be proud of — their sixth Final Four appearance and fourth title appearance in the last seven years (won in 2015) — and a lot to learn from.
Mendon rode their star, junior Anna Smith, to their second straight D4 state title largely because the Comets could not find an answer for her — much like 2018 when she tallied 18 kills.
Smith kick-started the Hornets with six kills and an ace in the first set after the Comets dashed out to a 4-0 thanks to three Tatum Kareck kills. Leland and Mendon were close until Smith snagged the serve and tallied a kill then back-to-back aces that made it a six-point spread that would last throughout the 25-17 win.
“She can score it will against our team or against any team ... I haven’t seen anybody shut her down really,” Glass said. “She has all the shots, she gets up there and she sees the tip, she sees the corner, she sees the line, she sees the cross, and at this level not a lot of D4 schools have kids that can do all of that at will.”
Smith tallied two kills in the middle of a six-point run to start the second set.
The Comets had trouble passing out of the spot serves and powerful spikes and it led to blocks for the Hornets, who tallied eight on the day.
“I thought that our offense became predictable, which allowed them to sort of camp out on us and block because they knew what we were doing,” Glass said. “l thought their game plan was pretty good, we just became predictable. Some of our bad passing early on dictated what we were running so they could get out there and run that, and we weren’t able to sort of move the blockers.”
The Hornets notched another 25-17 win in set two and looked to repeat the straight sweep from a year ago, but the Comets fought back before they would be denied.
Leland scorched their way to a 10-6 lead led by two Kareck kills and a Sarah Elwell block, keeping that lead until the Hornets rallied for four straight points when the score was 24-20.
Mendon pushed the set into extra points, but the Comets grasped their lead and took the set 29-27.
“I think it was good for us to just feel that we can push back when people push at us,” Leland junior libero Mia Osorio said. “I think that for us to know that when we’re down by two, that it’s good for us to push back and we know that we have like the strength inside of us to do that.”
Mendon turned a three-point lead into an eight-point one when the Comets made four errors early in the third set and celebrated their 25-14 win 10 points later.
“Coming out in warm ups, I thought, ‘Okay, we’re finally back,’” Mendon head coach Heather Bowers said. “We’ve had a couple rough games and I could tell that we were on. Our serves were on, it was flowing well, and then they started out strong and didn’t let up.”
Kareck led the Comets with 15 kills and 16 digs, leading up a group of Comets who contributed on Saturday. Grobbel tallied 13 kills, Olivia Lowe 11 and Elwell seven for a team total of 46.
The Comets return 10 juniors and a freshman from this year’s final roster, losing only Grobbel to graduation. Jana Molby (36 assists, eight digs) and Jennifer Estrada (10 digs) are also a part of that group.
Coincidentally, the Hornets return nine players including Smith, Andrea Hoffman (six kills, three aces) and freshman Alexis Ames.
Osorio and the juniors at Leland are hoping they get another shot at this squad in 2020.
“It makes me want to win even more,” Osorio said. “Last year we came into it thinking we could win, this year thinking like we really want to win, but next time it’s like the cherry on top. I feel like we really want to win, make it down here again and hopefully see them again.”
Smith had 22 kills in the match and added 13 digs and four aces, attacking at .386. Taylor Heitkamp, who came back for her senior year after sitting out 2018, had 12 kills and an ace for Mendon.