by Richard Lamb–Advance Editor
Like two evenly-matched heavyweight fighters, the Leland Comets and the Rogers City Hurons exchanged body blows for 15 bloody rounds last night up to the final bell and a referee’s decision. The Hurons outlasted the Comets in five sets (25-23, 21-25, 25-17, 23-25, 15-12) to move on to the regional finals Thursday at 7 p.m. against the host Bellaire Eagles.
Leland, a final-four team from last season, as were the Hurons, came into the match ranked No. 2 in the coaches’ poll. Rogers City is ranked No. 8 in the same poll, having defeated No. 5 Onaway in the district finals last week. The two teams played like top-ten teams, fiercely attacking the net and then bracing to return equally potent attacks from the other side.
While the front line, set up by freshman setter Kristin Brege, rocketed strikes against the Leland, the backline of libero Jayna Hance and defensive specialist Hannah Fleming hit the floor to dig most of the Leland’s big hitters had to offer.
Heavy hitters Kayla Rabeau and Taylor Fleming were everywhere. Taylor Fleming had 25 kills, 24 digs and seven ace serves while Rabeau added 20 kills with 18 digs. Each took turns taking over the game with their confident and aggressive play. In the critical third set, Taylor Fleming stepped to the service line and delivered four straight points, the last three coming on aces to the uncovered back line of the surprised Leland defense. Rabeau put an exclamation point on the Huron win, slamming match point to the floor from the left-hitter position.
“I just wanted to come out and play a good game, because I know what our potential is. These girls didn’t quit,” said coach Jackie Quaine who looks to guide her team to its third-straight regional title.
Quaine said the girls were impressive in their blocking schemes with the presence Rabeau, Taylor Fleming, Maddie Hincka, Kyrsten Altman and Catheryn Hart forming a solid wall to shoot over.
Hance had 25 digs, Hannah Fleming had 10 digs, Altman added eight while Brege assisted on 37 kills.
“We all had to come to play. We all had to bring our best game. Everybody did their best,” Quaine said.
The Hurons broke out to a 15-10 lead in the first set, following an ace from Hance. Leland came back to tie it at 19-19 before the Hurons took a timeout. Leland got the next point to lead 20-19 before three straight Huron points gave the Hurons a 22-20 lead. Leland won the next three points but a kill from Rabeau from the left side capped a three-point run and a 25-23 win in the first set.
Rogers City saw a 9-5 lead disappear in the second set as the lead changed hands three times before Leland won 25-21.
A smash from Taylor Fleming down the middle of the court gave Rogers City a 7-1 lead in the third set. Her three consecutive aces help build a 13-4 lead for the Hurons. Leland closed to 21-15, but the Hurons held on for a 25-17 lead.
Now facing elimination by trailing 2-1 in the best of five match, Leland came out strong in the fourth set. They led 12-4 before the Hurons cut the lead to 17-14. A missed kill attempt cut the Leland lead to 21-20, and then Rogers City tied it on a Rabeau kill, off a set by Brege. The Comets won the last two points to win 25-23 and force a deciding fifth set.
Played to 15 points in the fifth set, the Hurons got off to a good start leading 4-2. Leland tied it at 4-4 but never led in the deciding game in the 15-12 Huron win.
The winner of the regional will play the winner of the Big Rapids regional between Mt. Pleasant Sacred Heart, ranked 10th in the coaches’ poll, and Muskegon Catholic Central, an honorable mention in the poll. That quarterfinal match will be played at Buckley High School, south of Traverse City Tuesday at 7 p.m. The quarterfinal winner would advance to the state semifinals in a bracket that includes top-ranked Plymouth Christian Academy who faces No. 3 North Adams-Jerome in their regional final.
The other teams left in the lower part of the bracket are multiple-time state champion but unranked Battle Creek St. Philip who faces unranked Climax Scotts in their regional final.
In the top half of the bracket, the only top-ten team still alive is seventh-rated Rudyard, who plays Pellston in their regional final. Updates will be posted on the Advance Facebook site and at PIAdvance.com.