by Richard Lamb–Advance Editor
The end of the season came too soon for the Onaway Cardinals (28-17-2). The team lost to Rudyard in the regional finals 3-1 (26-24, 18-25, 25-27, 22-25), ending the Cards’ year to the team they eliminated in the regionals last season.
“We set goals every year and sometimes we accomplish all of them and sometimes we accomplish some of them and this was one of those years. You always like to win some hardware, whether it is a conference championship, and we got one of those, or a district championship, and we got one of those. But we are really not satisfied with that kind of stuff. We are not really happy unless we can do more,” said Onaway coach Steve Watson.
His Cardinals played Rudyard nearly evenly for the two-hour match at Cheboygan High School, but could not get by the Bulldogs. Both schools brought energetic student cheering sections that added spice to an entertaining match.
“There are a lot of teams around the state of Michigan that win a district, and this is not to take away from winning a district, but winning a regional and getting to the quarterfinals is special. It is hard to not look at that as a disappointment. It is another one up on the banner but we are about bigger things than that,” Watson said.
Things looked good for the Cards in the first set after starting slowly by trailing 7-3. A kill by Breya Domke, a tip by Mallorie Neelis and two errors by Rudyard cut the lead to 8-7. Then, behind the serving of Malaurie McLean, the Cards went on a 6-0 run that featured two aces from McLean and a kill by Cloe Ehrke. With the Cards up 15-13, Rudyard called timeout and responded by taking a 19-18 lead.
A service error and a shot that rolled on the net before dropping to the floor on the Rudyard side gave Onaway a brief 21-20 lead. A kill and two aces help Rudyard to a 23-21 lead in this see-saw game.
Another kill by Domke and another ace from McLean gave Onaway set point at 24-23. The teams traded service errors to again give Onaway set point at 25-24. With Ehrke at the service line, McLean made a back-row dig and bump to Neelis who set up the left-hitter for the winning kill.
Set two again found Rudyard jumping out to an early lead at 6-2. They led 14-11 before going on a 7-0 run to make it 21-11. The Cards closed to 24-18 before a kill from the middle-hitter closed out the set and tied the match at 1-1.
Onaway started strong in the third set as a series of kills from Domke made it 9-3. The score was tied at 13-13 and 15-15 before a 6-1 run gave Rudyard a 21-16 lead. Four kills by Domke and an ace by McLean tied the score at 22-22.
Facing match point, and error by Rudyard gave the Cards new life, but an error and a kill gave the Bulldogs a 27-25 win.
Now facing elimination in the fourth set, Onaway showed character by jumping out to a 5-0 lead behind the serving of Ehrke. Rudyard worked its way back to tie the score at 10-10, 15-15 and 17-17. At 17-18, a blown serve seemed like a momentum swing for the Cards, but they returned the service error and Rudyard reeled off the next five points.
Malaisha Van and Jackie Sellke combined for a block and then a missed attack made it 22-20, Rudyard. But a kill down the middle and an ace set up match point at 24-20. The Cards’ attempt fell short and Rudyard moved on to the quarterfinals.
“We had a couple of sets where they were decided by two points and a couple of things mildly went against us. We had one set where we had a lot of errors. That is oneof the things that makes it tough. We are losing to a team that we can compete with and we know that whoever is next in the quarterfinals we could compete with. That makes it tougher. Against a team that you know you are overmatched with it is a little easier to handle (the loss). Rudyard is a really talented team for sure,” Watson said.
Domke broke her own school record with 26 kills while adding 21 digs. Neelis had five kills, 27 assists, four aces, 20 digs; McLean had three kills, five aces, 14 digs; Jordan Larson had 19 digs; Ehrke had 19 digs; Sellke had 16 digs; while Lexie Horton added two kills.
The team will lose seniors Mallorie Neelis, Malaurie McLean, Jordan Larson, Malaisha Van and Jackie Sellke to graduation this season after fine volleyball careers for the Cardinals.