TRAVERSE CITY — Junior Emma Mirabelli was honored Thursday night at the Traverse City Christian gym for an accomplishment most volleyball players only dream about.
Ahead of a ranked matchup with Traverse City St. Francis, Mirabelli was presented with a plaque and volleyball marking her 1,000th kill that took place over the weekend with the Sabres. Sabres head coach Katelyn Shaffran and athletic director Micah Gallegos both projected Mirabelli will reach 2,000 kills before she leaves TC Christian.
The match that followed showed that Shaffran and Gallegos might be on to something.
Mirabelli led the Sabres (15-4) to a five-set victory over TC St. Francis with a total of 36 kills — just three off what Shaffran said is the average she will need to reach 2,000.
“She averages about 40 kills a game and with 15 games left this season I know she has a chance,” Shaffran said. “I think it’s going to happen.”
Reaching 2,000 career kills would put Mirabelli in the top 20 in state history.
TC Christian won 25-20, 25-21, 23-25, 28-30, 15-10, and had to come back from several large deficits to pull off the upset of the No. 9-ranked Gladiators (13-6). The Sabres entered the contest on the Division 4 honorable mention list, and Shaffran said her team talked a lot about moving up the polls.
“As a small team, this is a huge accomplishment,” Shaffran said. “We have been trying to work our way up the rankings and it’s awesome because we are a really small school with only seven girls total.”
The Sabres only have one substitute on the bench at any given time and Mirabelli never leaves the floor. After jumping out to a 2-0 lead, the Gladiators' depth began to shine through and the Sabres needed a full team effort to go up against Glads big hitter Kaylin Poole, who notched 22 kills on 50 attempts and began pouring it on late to push the match to a fifth set.
“It’s always a challenge when you see a good hitter like that,” Mirabelli said. “You just have to play your side of the court, get the ball up and trust your hitters. Part of being a small team with only seven girls is you have to be on the same bandwidth.”
The Sabres ran away with game one before falling behind 7-0 in game two. TC Christian broke off a 14-4 run to comeback and take game two, 25-21, but Poole and Campbell Domres brought the Glads back with two tight victories.
Domres and Poole each had kills at critical junctures to close out a 25-23 game three and 30-28 game four. Poole had six kills in the final set, but two errors followed by Mirabelli’s final kill gave the Sabres the win.
“They were excited from the beginning and played awesome,” Shaffran said. “That was their best comeback, when they came back down from eight. Once we won those first two games, we weren’t going to let them take it.”
Gladiators head coach Kathleen Nance said her team dealt with a host of illnesses and injury issues, forcing her to field the eighth new lineup in as many games.
“I think the whole game our serve receive was just a bit off, so we weren’t able to mix up our offense like I would have liked us to,” Nance said. “This is a season where we are building a lot of character and we are trying to build a lot of depth.”
The Glads saw contributions from all over with 16 kills from Domres, 11 by Alexis Ochab and 22 from Poole. Lexi Coger led the TCSF defense with 30 digs, followed by Poole with 21 and Hannah Sidorowicz with 17. Sidorowicz also had 55 assists.
TC Christian’s seven players each contributed at least two digs on defense, with Mirabelli leading the pack with 28. Ava Wendel had 20 digs, Camille Thurman 12, Julianna Brower 13, Ellie Visser 17, Olivia Connor tallied seven and Ella Wendel two. Visser also had seven kills, while Brower and Thurman each notched four.
The Sabres will take on Division 4 No. 2-ranked Leland and Division 3 No. 3-ranked Charlevoix this weekend with hopes to make a bigger impression on the Michigan Interscholastic Volleyball Coaches Association.
”We have been honorable mention two weeks in a row, so our goal is to move up those rankings,” Shaffran said. “We have a big week ahead of us and have to take those one at at a time.
“This was a good warmup.”