TRAVERSE CITY — Playing on your rival’s home court normally brings out the nerves, but the Traverse City Central Trojans felt right at home on Wednesday night.
The Division 1 district semifinal moved to Traverse City West from Petoskey after the Trojans defeated Alpena in the first round and the Trojan faithful made Wednesday feel like a home game.
The Trojans defeated the Titans 3-1, notching the second win in three tries and the first on either rival’s home floor this season.
“It was nice to have the crowd that we did tonight compared to the last time we played here,” Trojans head coach Jen Wright said. “It was nice to have that energy so the girls can feel it and really get into it. We didn’t have that in Petoskey on Monday, so it was really nice to have that support and have them feel the atmosphere of what a playoff is supposed to be.”
The Trojans fed off the energy in the gym and blazed to a first set victory. The Titans fought admirably to an 12-12 tie before errors got the best of them and the Trojans pulled away. TC Central went on a eight-point run that was punctuated with three kills by Emma Turnquist to seal the 25-13 win.
“We came in driving, confident and we were playing to win, which is something I am really proud of,” Wright said. “I think their work ethic has stepped up a notch since our regular season ended. They are driving forward, holding each other accountable when they need to and supporting each other when they need to.”
Traverse City West wouldn’t back off as they flipped the switch in set No. 2. After jumping out to a 10-6 lead, the Titans continued to let their defense feed into their offense and found success in the late stages of the second set. Leah Allen put the exclamation point on the Titans second set win with a block and two aces to seal the game at 25-20.
The Trojans needed to regroup during the set break and they came back with a plan.
“After the second set we realized that we kind of need to get the job done and up our pace, and I think that we really just showed up and did what we wanted to in that set,” Turnquist said. “We held our own and we made sure we didn’t make the same mistakes as past games. I think that this being such a bigger game we really worked towards getting the ball up and not letting it hit the floor.”
The Trojans defense began to show through in the third set as the rallies between the two teams got longer and longer. Neither team would give an inch on defense until the Trojans broke off five straight points catalyzed by Maggie McCrary’s play at the net. McCrary tallied five kills in a nine-point stretch for the Trojans and helped seal game three 25-14.
The Trojans totaled 66 digs as a team and the Titans amassed 53. Ally McKenna led the Titans with 20 digs and Olivia Fiebing paced the Trojans with 26.
The Trojans busted out to a four-point lead early in the fourth set and never looked back, winning 25-14 to move onto the district final Thursday against Marquette at Petoskey.
“Coming into this match we knew it was going to be tough,” Titans head coach Emily Baumann said. “Central is very senior-heavy and they have some big hitters and they’re big, and we’re not. We’re little.
“We just made a little too many errors and they got us down. We played well; we just didn’t play our best.”
Baumann said her team got “timid” during Wednesday’s match and a lack of aggressiveness ultimately sealed their fate.
The Titans were held to 21 kills as a team, with Becky Lane leading the way with six, Allen five and Bailey O’Brien four. TC West made more hitting errors (22) than kills.
The Trojans’ two-headed monster of Turnquist and McCrary totaled 14 and 12 kills, respectively. Turnquist said the 6-foot-1 duo’s presence is intimidating to opponents let alone their play on the court.
“It helps being tall because it’s really intimidating, especially with us putting a big block up.” Turnquist said of her and McCrary’s advantage. “I think as soon as you walk in the gym people are kind of like, ‘oh crap there they are’, and we just kind of play our game and we work really well together.”
The Trojans netted 44 kills as a team with Jordan Burnham (eight) and Grace Lord (five) chipping in. Another strong point for the Trojans was their serving, notching 14 aces.
“Our serving game was pretty good tonight and that gives our hitters that much more confidence to be able to swing away,” Wright said. “And when we are swinging we are pretty good.”
Turnquist said beating their rival in the playoffs, especially on their home court, is sure to add momentum to their playoff run and their district final against Marquette, which beat Petoskey 25-22, 25-20, 26-24.
In the setback, the Northmen were led by Milla Sherman (23 kills, 14 digs, three aces, 22 serve receptions) and Peyton Miller (32 assists).