by Richard Lamb—Publisher
The Cardinal title express rolled on to a 3-0 (25-19, 25-23, 27-25) win over previously unbeaten Pickford to claim its second regional title in three years.
Coach Steve Watson’s charges never trailed in the first two sets, but faced a set point in the third, only to hold on for the win.
“I told the girls that this team is undefeated for a reason. They don’t quit,” said coach Steve Watson after the match. “I know they were in this position over the season, so they are not of the quitting mentality.”
Onaway reeled off the first five points in the first set only to have Pickford get the next five. Then senior Lexi Szymoniak took over. She notched three kills in a six point run, each off sets from Taylor Ehrke that fell right in her wheelhouse, to get the Cards up 11-5. The teams played even the rest of the way, but that spurt gave the Cards the winning margin at 25-19.
Pickford had set two tied at 2, before the Cards again took charge. Elise Arkwood nailed a shot to the floor from the right hitter spot that came after another kill from Szymoniak. That put the Cards up 7-3. Pickford would cut the margin to one point at 12-11, but then three Panther errors and a kill from Morganne Badgero, another from Szymoniak and an ace serve from Ashley LaLonde put the Cards up 18-12.
The undefeated Panthers challenged again at the end of the game, running off three straight points to make it 24-23, but a bad serve cost them the set.
Onaway looked to put away Pickford in set three, going up 11-5, after Badgero put a shot away. But Pickford kept picking away at the lead. They tied the score at 20-20 on a rare Onaway error and took a 24-23 lead. But an error tied the score at 24-24 before Szymoniak smacked a shot over two blockers down the left sideline to give the Cards match point. Jade Galor’s serve went long to make it 25-25. Then a block by Ehrke and Arkwood netted point 26 for the Cards before another Panther error gave the match to Onaway.
“I think that third set was a combination of they were really coming for it and we started to get a little tight,” Watson said.
Szymoniak broke the school kill record with 23 in the championship match. She added 38 digs and had three assists in a dominating performance. With ice on her tired right shoulder, she said winning the regional title in Pellston, long a tough opponent of everyone in northern Michigan, gave the win more meaning.
“It is the greatest feeling. This has always been the team to beat and it was tough because we knew Pickford was undefeated. It felt good to end that for them,” Szymoniak.
Onaway now plays in the quarterfinal Tuesday, likely in Manistique. They face Stephenson, from the western edge of the Upper Peninsula, who defeated Crystal Falls Forest Park 3-0.
More details on the time and location of that match will be posted on PIAdvance.com