BATTLE CREEK — It was the last step on a journey the Kingsley Stags’ senior class started back in sixth grade.
The seven Stags who played their final match Friday left Battle Creek with something to be proud of.
Kingsley (58-8-3) made the first trip to the volleyball Final Four as a Division 2 team in school history, but fell to No. 1-ranked Grand Rapids Christian 25-21, 25-14, 25-10 Friday at Kellogg Arena in the state semifinals.
“It is surreal because we have always come down here to watch each finals and we worked so hard to get here,” Stags senior outside hitter Brittany Bowman said. “It was a dream come true to us.”
The Eagles’ size proved to be the hurdle the Stags couldn’t get over in the straight sweep with 6-foot-3 Evelyn Doezema and 6-foot Addison VanderWeide doing most of the damage for Grand Rapids Christian.
The pair tallied 29 of the Eagles’ 47 kills that put the Stags away easily after a tough-fought first set.
The Stags went back-and-forth with the Eagles (45-3) in the early goings of the match, getting the score to 5-5 before the Eagles took the lead and wouldn’t relinquish it.
Kingsley’s Austyn DeWeese sparked the Stags once they fell behind and notched three kills in a five-point span to bring them to within three at 18-15, the closest they would get in the 25-21 loss.
“We’ve never faced Kingsley, so we didn’t know what their ball control was like or how much they’d be able to feed their middle blocker (DeWeese),” Eagles head coach Tiffannie Gates said. “They were getting her the ball and she was doing damage, so we decided to match up our bigger girls against her. I think that really helped us. We slowed her down a bit, blocked her a couple times and it definitely changed the momentum for us.”
DeWeese tallied five of her nine kills in the first set and the Eagles did a solid job of neutralizing her from there.
Bowman got Kingsley started with a kill in the second set, but the Eagles fired back on all cylinders.
The Eagles rattled off five straight points, including two kills from Doezema, to take the lead they would never relinquish on their way to a 25-14 win. VanderWeide reeled off three kills and an ace to put the Eagles up by 10 points and the Stags had trouble trying to block the power hitter.
“Their size caught up with us a little bit,” Stags head coach Dave Hall said. “We knew they were going to be big at the net. We had trouble blocking all four of their huge kids and you know we can do all right with one or two of them but not every lineup has three kids 6-foot-3 or 6-foot-4.”
The Stags’ block was ineffective against the power of the Eagles’ hitters. The ball routinely careened off the Stags hands.
The Eagles, who won the D2 state title in 2018 and were ranked No. 1 the entire season, made the proper adjustments to slow down Bowman and DeWeese and the final set was a testament to those changes.
The Eagles busted out to a 12-2 lead in set No. 3, forcing the Stags to hit away from their blockers and make six hitting errors to only five team kills.
“I think the nerves weren’t there yet (in the first set),” Stags senior Lark Jankewicz said. “Then in the second and third game we got really tense.”
Grand Rapids Christian ran away with the final set 25-10 and will face off with Lakewood on Saturday, who defeated Notre Dame Prep in the first of the D2 semifinals on Friday.
“All those years we came down to watch, I looked at those class B teams and thought there is no way we are ever going to get here,” Hall said. “We are a small Class B school. After seeing the level of play in Class B, I really felt like it was going to be tough to ever get back here, so for me it was almost a dream come true to actually get here.”
The Stags bolstered their title chances this season by creating a regular-season schedule that was much more difficult and included tournaments with numerous D1 and D2 schools to get them prepped for the late stages of the volleyball tournament.
The trails proved fruitful as they made their first trip to Battle Creek since 2004.
“I think being the only public school in the Final Four is a pretty big accomplishment,” Stags senior Sidny Hessem said. “I think we did great and we had a good end to an awesome season.
“This is the greatest last step of our journey together.”
The Stags were led by Bowman with 14 digs and 12 kills, Hessem had five kills, four digs and an ace, Maddie Bies tallied 23 assists and Jankewicz had seven digs.
VanderWeide had 19 kills, nine digs and two aces and Doezema tallied 10 kills and eight digs to lead the Eagles. Lauren Peal had 11 digs and Jordyn Gates led the Eagles’ defense with 15 digs while garnering 28 assists for Grand Rapids Christian.