IONIA — The Kingsley Stags entered Thursday with distant memories of their stumble in the state quarterfinals last season.
Primed, ready and fresh off a regional final victory over Cadillac last Thursday the Stags wouldn’t let their fate be decided by nerves or the pressure of the situation on Tuesday.
The Stags (58-7-3) didn’t fall short this time, defeating Freeland in straight sets 25-7, 25-17, 25-13 in the Division 2 state quarterfinal at Ionia High School.
“Right from the start we came out and dominated that first game and never looked back,” Stags head coach Dave Hall said. “They came in confident with no nerves and had so much poise.”
The win sends the Stags to the Final Four in Battle Creek for the first time since they joined Division 2 (they made it as a Class C school in 2004). Kingsley will take on defending state champion and wire-to-wire No. 1 Grand Rapids Christian in the state semifinals on Friday at 6:30 p.m. at Kellogg Arena in Battle Creek.
“Getting to Battle Creek is a huge step,” Hall said in his 21st year as head coach of the Stags. “We feel like if we really play our game and come out swinging we have nothing to lose. It’s easier to not have the pressure. I don’t think anyone in the state thinks we will win but us so we have no pressure.”
The Stags made easy work of Freeland with the match only lasting 59 minutes in Ionia on Tuesday. Kingsley jumped to a first set 25-7 win before Freeland put up any sort of fight.
Freeland was behind the entire evening but was able to get set No. 2 to a score of 16-14 before the Stags started a run and never looked back.
Brittany Bowman was outstanding according to Hall, tallying 18 kills and 18 digs to go with three aces to lead the Stags. Austyn DeWeese had seven kills and Sidny Hessem nine.
DeWeese also had five blocks and Hessem added two of her own and 18 digs. Lark Jankewicz had 10 digs and four aces and Maddie Bies set up 31 assists and tallied five digs.
Traverse City St. Francis had no such luck on Tuesday when they fell in straight sets to Beaverton 25-22, 25-19 and 25-21 in the Division 3 quarterfinal at Houghton Lake.
The Gladiators (33-18) led for most of the first set before Beaverton got a lead at 23-22 and scored five of the last six points to win. Beaverton jumped out to an early lead of 8-3 in the second set and the Glads could not recover.
TC St. Francis started the third set hot, taking an early 7-4 lead before some illegal hits gave Beaverton the advantage. The Beavers went on a 10-4 run following an 8-8 tie and the rest was history.
“Overall I think that the girls played their hearts out,” first-year Glads head coach Kathleen Nance said. “I left the gym with nothing but pride for these girls.
“They were resilient. We played with a different lineup a lot throughout the season and with everything we threw at them, they battled through.”
The TCSF offense was led by Kaylin Poole with 15 kills, Maddie Connolly with 10 and Lauren Tocco and Alexis Ochab each with four. Hannah Sidorowicz had 36 assists and led the defense with 17 digs. Poole tallied 13 digs, Connolly 12, Laura Gallagher 14 and Alena Kavanaugh six.
The Gladiators fell one game short of making a return to the Final Four for the second straight season and will lose six seniors to graduation including Connolly, Tocco, Gallagher, Kavanaugh, Laura Derocher and Olivia Graham.
TCSF will return two of their biggest assets next year with Sidorowicz at setter and Poole at outside hitter.
The Gladiators earned an Academic All-State distinction as a team and six players got individual academic honors for All-State.