By Wendi Reardon Price
Clarkston News Sports Writer
GRAND BLANC — Clarkston Varsity Volleyball has been talking about the last season ender in the quarterfinal playoff game since after it happened.
They marked their return to the Elite Eight after a win over Flushing, 3-0, in the MHSAA Division 1 Regional 8 final last Thursday at Grand Blanc High School.
“We are excited to be back there,” said Ali Smith, head coach. “We feel like we have unfinished business. We have been talking about it since November 15 last year. Cayla (Cogan) was having a heck of a game. Then, in the fourth set she blew out her knee.”
The Wolves returned a lot of experience from last season and added freshman Marlie Smith.
As Clarkston built onto their overall 33-3 record through the season, the talk continued to be about the postseason and getting back to the quarterfinal round.
“It’s definitely been an umbrella conversation we have had in our gym,” Smith said. “We are also in the mindset we need to take this one match, one set, one ball, one point at a time to really get the best out of us. That’s kind of the mentality we are using up to this point and we will continue to use.”
Clarkston opened the regional final taking the first set, 25-17. Flushing tied the game winning the second set, 25-19.
“I don’t think we were playing to win,” said Smith about the second set. “We were just playing it safe. I think any different situations we can get put in to prepare us for what could potentially be ahead is great,” Smith said. “Yes, it’s awesome to win 3-0 but it’s also great to drop them at a later time when you have to persevere and dig down, get grittier, change the momentum, and find other ways to get the job done.”
She added they can’t win it all in one swing.
“We need to be smarter in our decision making, and we need to take advantage of the opportunities that we have to put balls away,” Smith said. “There are other moments we just need to keep the ball in play and not gift them a point.”
The Wolves jumped to the lead in the third set and quickly found themselves ahead 9-4 with points from Cogan, M. Smith and Addison Newblatt.
They continued to build onto the lead. Newblatt scored on a hit to put the Wolves’ up ten points, 19-9. Kiley Gallagher was up to serve and scored four aces to put Clarkston one point away from taking the set.
“When Kiley can find rhythm serving, she is pretty unstoppable,” Smith said. “It’s a big piece of what we want to do as a team. If we are serving tough and making their passer make decisions and not allowing their setter run whatever they want, it makes it so much easier for our defense.”
Isabelle Henry hit the next point to end the set, 25-9.
Flushing opened the fourth set with two points but the Wolves caught up and tied it with points from Cogan and M. Smith. The set was tied 5-5 and Clarkston scored the next three points from Rylee Hunt and Cogan. From there, the Wolves continued to build onto their lead finishing with the final two points from Newblatt and Cogan, 25-13.
“It was nice to see how they responded after set two and how they came back and looked like the team we are more familiar with,” Smith said.
M. Smith had 14 kills, eight digs and four assists. Newblatt had 14 kills, six digs and three aces. Gallagher had 15 digs, five assists and five aces. Emery Kuebler had 40 assists and ten digs. Cogan had 13 kills. Henry had nine kills, Hunt had four blocks and Jess Prukner had two aces.
“Addison was great,” Smith said. “Both of our middles, Rylee and Izzy, were great tonight. When they had opportunities, they really took advantage of them. When you look back we are relatively well rounded. We can attack from a lot of different positions and a lot of different kids are able to hit a ball.”
The Wolves won the regional semifinal against Hartland on November 8, 3-0, 25-18, 25-20, 25-21.
Smith had 13 kills, nine assists, six digs, three blocks and two aces. Gallagher had 20 digs, three aces and three assists. Newblatt had 12 kills and two aces. Kuebler had 25 assists and six digs. Hunt had six kills and three blocks. Cogan had eight kills and Henry had four blocks.
UPDATE: The quarterfinal was Tuesday against Macomb L’Anse Creuse. The Wolves won 3-0 and move on to play the Farmington Hills Mercy in the semifinal on Friday at 6:30 p.m. The state final is Saturday at 12 p.m. with the winners from Clarkston/Mercy and Grand Rapids Green Hills/Northville. Both games are at the Kellogg Center in Battle Creek. Updates on www.clarkstonnews.com.
By Wendi Reardon Price