REMUS — Traverse City Christian came up short in Tuesday’s battle for a bid at Battle Creek.
The No. 5-ranked Sabres fell out of the Division 4 volleyball bracket in a 3-0 sweep to No. 9 Mt. Pleasant Sacred Heart Academy by set scores of 25-21, 25-23 and 26-24 at Chippewa Hills High School.
The senior-laden Irish team will make the school’s first trip to Kellogg Arena to meet Indian River Inland Lakes in the D4 semifinals Thursday. Battle Creek St. Philip and Allen Park Inter-City Baptist also advanced.
A win for the Sabres would have been their first Final Four trip in school history as well. The last TC Christian team to advance to the quarterfinals was the 2008 team, which lost that match.
“Both teams fought so well,” TC Christian star senior Emma Mirabelli said. “It was a great game on both ends. It really came down to they (Sacred Heart) played a better game. They made less errors. But we both left our hearts out on the court. Nothing you can be ashamed of in that game.”
The match was tied at 20-20 at some point in each set. The Sabres broke a 5-0 run to start the match and emerged with a 16-15 lead to force a timeout. The Irish reached set point first in the first two sets and closed both out for wins.
The Sabres had a three-point lead halfway through set three and had their first chance at set point of the night. They led 24-23, but Sacred Heart scored three consecutive points to clinch the match and erase the Sabres’ chances at Battle Creek.
TC Christian coach Katelyn Shaffran said the Irish brought some of the best competition they’ve seen so far this season.
“I think we just got a little frazzled,” Shaffran said.
Sacred Heart coach Krista Davis said she knew the Irish were not going to be able to stop Mirabelli, but she liked the team’s chances of blocking her at the net with a tall front line.
“Gosh darn it, she’s a great player, so she can see the blocks,” Davis said of Mirabelli. “We tried to block the line, she hit it across the court. We blocked across the court, she hit it even further across the court.”
The key to winning the match, Davis said, was disrupting the Sabres enough when Mirabelli played out of the back row while digging out some of her back-row attacks.
Sacred Heart has had several winning seasons in recent years but lost to Leland in five of the six times it has been to the quarterfinals, most recently in 2018.
“All those teams in the past, they have set the tone,” Davis said. “They have raised the standard for our girls to be at the level that they’re at, to be better each day.”
Mirabelli ended her last high school match with 25 kills. That puts her at 922 for the season — eighth best in state history during the rally-scoring era — and 2,178 for her career — good for 21st best in state history, also during the rally-scoring era. Ava Wendell added 10 kills, and Brooke Smith scored one.
Mirabelli plans to play collegiate volleyball but hasn’t made a decision yet. She plans to play with a club team out of Grand Rapids until June.
“I probably have at least one person per game or tournament come up and say what an incredible player she is,” said Shaffran, who’s coached Mirabelli since she was in seventh grade. “It’s not just how she plays on the court, but I think just her attitude. She’s super humble and a great teammate, and I think a lot of girls look up to her too.”
The Sabres return seven of nine players, graduating Mirabelli and Julianna Brower. Shaffran said she anticipates two additions.
Smith, Lydia Brower, Taylor Tebben and Wendell all were juniors this fall. Isabelle Millward and Rebekah Burch were sophomores. Lydia Critchfield played on the team as an eighth-grader.
TC Christian’s season ends at 43-9-5.