Wolves feeling great after making Elite Eight with win over Grand Blanc

By Wendi Reardon Price
Clarkston News Sports Writer
White Lake — It’s down to the Elite Eight in the MHSAA Volleyball playoffs and Clarkston is part of the top eight teams.
The Wolves finished another week on the court with smiles and excitement as they won the MHSAA Division 1 Volleyball Regional 8 championship at White Lake Lakeland High School last Thursday against Grand Blanc, 3-0.
“This is a really special group,” began Ali Smith, head coach for Clarkston Varsity Volleyball. “At the beginning of the year when I was having my health difficulties (fighting breast cancer), it was never a question if I wanted to coach them or not, or if I was going to be here or not. I think that the character in the kids that we have is really special. I think they care about each other. They play hard for each other and I think wins like tonight show that.”
Smith added, “I have to give Grand Blanc a lot of credit. They have gone through a lot of adversity this week. They came out and played really hard, effort on balls, kids flying under the net and in the corner. It’s that time of year when you have to give it everything you’ve got. Hats off to them.”
The Wolves won the first set, 25-15. Both teams were close in the score, but Clarkston began pulling away with hits from junior Cayla Cogan and senior McKenna Hempton.
“It always helps when Cayla gets hot,” said Smith. “So far not a lot of people have had an answer for Cayla. When she gets hot everyone feels good about everything that’s going on out there.”
They had a four-point lead as Grand Blanc called a time out with the score, 14-10. After the break, the Wolves lead continue to grow as they led eight points before wrapping the set with a win.
Senior Paige Giehtbrock opened the second set with the first point and the Bobcats responded with four consecutive points. Clarkston climbed out of the hole with points from Cogan and senior Annabelle Keller, who scored points on some of her serves and hits.
Giehtbrock and Hempton finished the set with the last two hits and with a 25-18 win for the Wolves.
Clarkston opened the third set with a 4-point run and finished with another 25-18 with contributions from everyone to take the sweep for the match.
Smith the added the team’s depth really helped throughout the night.
“We had Annabelle going really strong,” she said. “Our middles, although I don’t think they got set enough tonight, I thought they were running things really hard and drawing blockers with them and opening things up for everybody else. We don’t give enough credit to Emery Kuebler. The choices she makes and the decisions she makes in difficult situations – nine times out of ten I am totally on board with it. She gives us everything she has – her heart, her soul. All of our hitters are able to do what they do because of her.”

Clarkston Varsity Volleyball finishes in the Elite Eight, winning the regional championship over Grand Blanc. Photo by Wendi Reardon Price

Giehtbrock had eight kills, eight digs, three assists and two aces and Cogan had 12 kills.
Keller had nine digs, seven kills and three aces
“Annabelle to me tonight was the X factor,” said Smith. “She was playing defense, passing, blocking, getting great touches, setting great blocks, attacking the ball very well, really smart and when we can throw that into the mix as well as our outsides and our middles how do you defend that. It’s really tough to defend. She’s coming out strong in the playoffs right now. I am really proud of her.”
Kuebler had 31 assists and six digs. Junior Kiley Gallagher had 15 digs. Junior Jessica Petker and sophomore Morgan Lozzi each had two aces.
The Wolves won the regional semifinal against White Lake Lakeland, 3-0, Nov. 8, 25-22, 25-21, 25-18.
Giehtbrock had ten kills and five digs. Cogan had 15 kills. Keller had nine kills, five blocks and five digs. Kuebler had 41 assists, six digs and two aces. Gallagher had 17 digs. Senior Emma Larkins had nine kills and three blocks.
Clarkston (38-7) moved on to the quarterfinals against Bloomfield Hills Marian (46-1) on Tuesday in Port Huron.
“I hope we can continue to play as well as we can,” said Smith. “The competition is going to get tougher as we go. When there’s only eight teams left everybody is good. We need to play clean volleyball and execute very well. We need to continue to play with maximum effort.”
Marian won the quarterfinal game, 3-2, and moves on to the semifinals on Thursday at 4:30 p.m. The MHSAA Division 1 Volleyball Final is Saturday at 12 p.m. Both games are at Kellogg Center in Battle Creek. Tickets are available on gofan.co.

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