Wolves fall short in semifinal
BATTLE CREEK –It was in a nearly empty arena and lacking almost all fans that the Carney-Nadeau volleyball team clashed against Auburn Hills Oakland Christian in an echo of its 2018 run.
However, the Wolves couldn’t stop history from repeating itself Friday, and they fell 3-1 (25-23, 21-25, 25-19, 25-20) to the Lancers in a Division 4 State Semifinal at the Kellogg Arena in Battle Creek.
“I knew watching a little bit of film that (Carney was) good,” first-year Lancers coach Brian Theut said. “I knew today was going to be a battle. My defense, I’ve driven in all year — serve, serve-receive and defense.”
In the fourth set, with the Wolves down a set (2-1), two AHOC errors trimmed Carney’s deficit to 19-18, but it was a serve into the net that turned possession over to the Lancers and made it 20-18 — an issue for the normally precise Wolves all match.
“Going into a match like this, you don’t have to be perfect, but we just had more errors than they did,” Wolves coach Steve Kedsch said. “They were a really good service team. Everything was coming low and fast, and they served (in a lot of different ways). They could control the serve better than us. They dug a lot, and they’re a good defensive team. We’ve faced good defensive teams before, but they backed it up with some good hitting and great serving.”
AHOC’s Anna Frazee then engineered a four-point run — that ended with an ace — to move it into match-point.
However, a Lancers’ serve went long and gave the Wolves one final opportunity to force a fifth set.
“The girls played hard today,” Kedsch said. “We just got matched up against a team that served really well and kept us out of our system a little bit. When we were in-system, we scored points on them, and we did well.
“I told the girls: ‘Maybe it didn’t go our way tonight, but it wasn’t because of lack of effort.'”
Carney’s Taylor Kedsch — who ended with 12 kills for the day — spiked it right into AHOC’s libero, Olivia Colletti, to make it 24-20, but the Lancers’ Kaylee Page spiked it in between Wolves defenders to earn the set and the match.
“Taylor Kedsch is probably one of the best all-around players in the U.P,” coach Kedsch said. “She can play defense, hit and serve well. To see these kids grow up from sixth-grade volleyball to where they got to in their senior year.”
Despite Carney winning the second set, it was the AHOC comeback in the first set that was a turning point for the momentum of the match.
“The big thing is just to believe,” Theut said. “I’ve really been stressing all year that it’s not me, it’s us. I knew that (set) was pivotal. Carney was so relentless, but for us to take that first one was important. We kind of snuck that one out, and it was huge for us.”
In the first set, the Wolves jumped ahead with a short run from Mary Sivula, and then only further extended that lead thanks to strong hitting from Liana Blahnik and Kedsch as well as strong net play.
“Liana Blahnik continued to get stronger as the season went on,” coach Kedsch said. “Even tonight in the semifinals, they were trying to double and triple block her. Just where she came from to where she’s gotten is amazing.”
Carney’s Malorie Baumler seemed to nearly seal the set for the Wolves when she scored an ace to make it 19-11.
The Lancers made cut some of their deficit but were on the cusp of defeat (23-17) before Theut called a timeout.
It was the Wolves’ second service error of the match that turned it over to AHOC after returning from the timeout.
The Lancers wouldn’t give it back, and Hailee Ide helmed a seven-point run — marked by Wolves’ misplays — to seal the set 25-23.
“On the first set, yeah, I think we kind of gave that one away,” coach Kedsch said. “We were in control, and we should have won that set. But, we just, kind of, got into a funk, and we were playing not to lose. That hurt us.
“We were afraid to make a mistake hitting, and we would just give them an easy ball. Then, they would attack again and put us on our heels, but I was proud of the girls in that second set. It didn’t seem to faze them. They came out and played hard and were able to take a set against a good Auburn Hills team.”
Carney won the second set after going point-for-point until the very end. It was a mistake by AHOC and kills from Blahnik and Kedsch that allowed the Wolves to tie the sets at 1-1.
“I’m proud of the kids for getting through this, sticking with it and being positive,” coach Kedsch said. “All of that gave us a chance to get to the semifinals.”
Coach Kedsch also felt the difference in atmosphere due to restrictions was palpable.
“It is different,” he said. “It’s almost like the worst year we could come down here. Missing the experience of the large crowds and watching the other matches — just the whole experience of getting to states.”
He continued with praise for the seniors on the team as well as the underclassmen.
“Haley Ernest. You don’t get to state without having a good setter,” he said. “She had a few miscues today, but overall, she has great team leadership and energy on the floor for us.
“Heidi Kirschner is a great role player. She understands her role and her abilities, and I thought tonight she played a really good match.
“Sadie LaLonde. How far she came along is just amazing. She got a lot of time on the court this year due to improving her abilities.
“Lizzie Haddock was an outside hitter for us. Unfortunately, she didn’t get as much playing time as she could have, but I’m sure if she played on any other team, she would have gotten a lot more playing time.
“I’d like to give credit to my juniors as well. What helped us push over the top was them being role players and selling their roles.”
The Wolves finish the season with a record of 23-2.
Aces — Walcher 2, Baumler 2; kills — Blahnik 17, Kedsch 12, Baumler 3, Kirschner 3, Ernest 2; blocks — Blahnik 3; digs — Ernest 25, Walcher 19, Kedsch 15, Baumler 7, S. Kedsch 7.