BYRON CENTER – There were tears among the Montague volleyball players last Tuesday evening after the Wildcats lost a three-game regional Division 2 volleyball semifinal match against a dominant Coopersville, but the future looks bright.
“Ultimately we’re all disappointed in this moment, but we’re not disappointed in this season,” said Montague coach Shawn Bectel. “I don’t think so many people expected this from us because we were so young last year. But we knew. You need a moment like this to get going.”
The Wildcats, who were 10-0 in the West Michigan Conference to win the league title, and were 37-12-7 overall to earn an honorable mention ranking in Division 2, came into Tuesday’s game with just one senior on the squad compared to Coopersville’s six seniors. The Broncos are 41-8-2 overall and won the OK-Blue Conference.
Bectel said he believes his team’s lack of experience compared to the Broncos was a key to the outcome, along with the strong fan support for Coopersville who had a large student block behind one end of the court of South Christian High School’s gym, where the regional was held.
“I think that once we gave that first game up the girls got in their head. I mean their crowd really took us out of the game, I’ll be honest. It was night and day. Once we got on that side you can tell the girls got flustered by it.”
Montague stayed with Coopersville in the opening contest. The teams were tied 19-19 when a kill gave the Broncos a 20-19 lead and the serve. Bronco senior Cambria Cleveringa then served four straight points before Montague scored and got the serve. Katelynn Fritz quickly hit a kill to end the game 25-20.
In game two, with Montague on the end with the Coopersville student section, things started to unravel. The Broncos scored the first four points, and were up 10-2, before Montague rallied 3-2 to close the gap to 12-5. The Wildcats scored on a kill and a block by Reilly Murphy.
Bectel said the Wildcats couldn’t get enough blocks to disrupt the Broncos because of their superior height. Leading the way for Coopersville up front were 6-2 junior Abby Olen, 6-1 freshman Emily May and 5-7 Katelynn Fritz.
Cleveringa, a 5-10 senior, finished the 25-10 win in the second game for the Broncos with a kill.
“When you’re a foot above everyone else — it’s hard when you can’t get a block against that,” commented Montague’s coach. “Their size didn’t help us. That’s why I said keeping them out of their system is important. You can’t let a girl like that (Olin) at the net and dominate like that.”
Montague started the third game on par with Coopersville until the Broncos ripped off eight straight points to take a commanding 11-4 lead. The winners were up by as many as 14 before closing the match out 25-10.
“Coopersville is a good team. They’ve been ranked number two or three all season,” Bectel said. “I definitely think we could have played them better. I think we let the momentum and the moment get bigger than us. That’s not who we are, but that’s what we were tonight. We didn’t click on everything we normally do, so we weren’t as fast. They kind of did what we expected to do to them. They had us out of system, so when you’re out of your system the other team knows where you’re going to hit.”
Bectel believes his team has a bright future.
“I definitely think we will be back in this moment,” Bectel said. “Hopefully the girls will take this moment and remember it and put it away for a little bit. And take it and hopefully catapult us next year into good things.”
Montague’s stat leaders in the three-game regional semifinal were: junior Reilly Murphy with 14 kills, junior Ally Hall with 6 kills, junior Raegan Muphy with two aces and eight serves, senior libero Maddy Wynn with one ace, 10 serves, 20 serve receives and 17 digs and junior Taylor Netcott with 27 serve receives.