Lady Cards play for regional title tonight

by Richard Lamb–Publisher

Onaway (33-16-5) made quick work of Pellston (25-22, 25-17, 25-18) Tuesday to move to the regional finals. The Cards were to take on undefeated Pickford tonight (Nov. 13) for the right to play in Tuesday’s quarterfinals.

Tuesday’s regional semifinal in Pellston seemed almost like a home game for the Cards. The usually supportive Pellston crowd had their cheers topped by the “Ozone,” the student, parent and fan base who encouraged Onaway through a district championship and then into the regionals.

District champions. (Photos by Richard Lamb)

The regional semifinal match went much differently than the previous time the two teams met. That resulted in a five-set marathon for the Ski Valley Conference title, won by Onaway.

“I have tons of respect for Pellston. Last time we played them it was a dogfight for the conference. I expected that we would have to earn every point and probably go five (sets),” Cardinal coach Steve Watson said after the match.

On Tuesday, the first set went back and forth, with Pellston leading until the Cards battled back to tie the score at 10-10 on Elyse Arkwood’s tip from the middle hitter position. Pellston scored the next three points, but then Onaway came back with three to tie it at 13-13. Lexi Szymoniak, who had a dominating match from the left-hitter spot, blocked a kill for point 13 and then slugged a shot to the floor for point 14. Her next kill, off a perfect set by Taylor Ehrke, gave the Cards a 17-15 lead and some momentum.

Again Pellston responded with the next three points to regain the lead. The teams tied at 18, 19 and 20 before Onaway took the lead for good, scoring the last three points on Pellston errors.

“That first set was really, really close. If that thing flips, and a couple of points go the other way, we are playing from behind one set and that could change the entire complexion of the match and who knows what happens after that.” Watson said.

Senior Lexi Szymoniak drills one of her record 22 kills in the regional semifinal game with Pellston. (Photo by Richard Lamb)

Pellston took a 4-2 lead in set two before Onaway got on a roll. Two powerful kills by Szymoniak and three Pellston errors gave Onaway a 12-7 lead. Pellston cut that to 12-9, but never got any closer in the 25-17 win.

Watson’s strategy to slow down Pellston’s big hitting Makenzie Wright seemed to be working. Wright had several kills in the match, but was not as dominating as the last time the two teams met.

ONAWAY DIDN’T squander the chance to put away the Hornets in three sets, running up a 8-4 lead and then getting five straight points to go up 14-6. Alison LaFave got last point in the run on a kill set up by Ehrke.

Leading 20-12 and seemingly coasting to a win, the Cards watched as the Hornets to cut the lead to 20-16 before Onaway called timeout. Szymoniak stopped the rally with two kills and an ace to ice the win.

Onaway played strong and were assisted by some uncharacteristic Pellston errors.

“It seemed like we were taking the match more than they were giving it away. We were just asserting ourselves,” Watson said.

He praised the support from the Ozone.

“You don’t just walk into the Pellston gym and out-cheer them. I think our crowd really stepped up,” he said.

Watson was proud of the way his team stepped up to the pressure of playing in the Pellston gymnasium.

“I told the girls that this game is going be won or lost between  the ears. They are good. We are good. I thought it was going to come down to who is going to make the most positive plays and who limits the negative plays,” Watson said.

Szymoniak led the way with 22 kills, which tied a school record, and added17 digs.

A tip by Taylor Ehrke proved to be a winner for the Cards.

Ehrke had 5 kills, 24 assists and 5 digs, Arkwood had 4 kills, 2 aces and 10 digs, while Morganne Badgero had 2 kills, 3 assist 2 aces and 16 digs, Jade Galer 18 digs, Ashley LaLonde had 15 digs and LaFave  notched 2 kills and 4 digs.

LAST THURSDAY, in front of a loud and supportive home crowd, the Lady Cardinals took the district title over Hillman three sets, 25-14, 26-24 and 25-22.

Trailing 11-8 in the second set, the Cards ran off the next six points to take the lead. The teams tied again at 16, 17, 18, 19 and 20 before Hillman had set point at 24-22. Then Ehrke made a sneaky tip for point 23 before Brianna Fitzpatrick delivered an ace to give the Cards a 25-24 lead. Szymoniak, who had an outstanding all-around match, blocked a kill attempt for the winning point.

Szymoniak led the team with 13 kills and 29 digs. Ehrke had 5 kills, 25 set assists and 5 aces and 14 digs. Arkwood had 7 kills, 3 assists and 10 digs. Badgero had 5 kills, 2 aces and 16 digs.

The winner of yesterday’s regional final plays the winner of the Negaunee regional featuring Crystal Falls Forest Park against Stephenson. The site of Tuesday’s quarterfinal is to be determined. The quarterfinal winner advances to the state semifinals Nov. 21 at 3:45 p.m. at the Kellogg Arena in Battle Creek. The state championship match is set for 10 a.m. Nov. 22 at the Kellogg Arena.

(Watch PIAdvance.com for updates on the Onaway volleyball team. Results from Thursday’s match with Pickford will be posted and further details, should the team advance to quarterfinals and beyond.)