MUSKEGON — Montague had one big advantage over Whitehall heading into Thursday’s district finals match at Oakridge — height. Strong though the Vikings are, they don’t have anyone that can match up with Wildcat middle hitters Ally Hall and Janae Koetje.
It was a matchup Montague gleefully exploited Thursday, as the duo dominated the match and made the critical plays in a tight 25-23, 25-12, 26-24 Wildcats’ win that gave Montague its first district trophy since 2015, when they won in Class C.
Hall had a team-high 12 kills and five blocks, hitting for a .429 average and providing a wall of defense against any Whitehall attacks. Koetje had two kills and a block, with her presence likely affecting Viking hitters beyond the stat sheet.
“When they beat us the first game (we played), earlier in the season, we didn’t do a good job of that,” Montague coach Shawn Bectel said. “In the next three, we really knew where their hitters were going to be. We took away their options. That was a real key. My blockers really dominated the net tonight.”
It was most evident in game two, where the Vikes struggled to keep the ball in play against the Montague defense. Raegan Murphy, who herself posted three blocks on the night, earned a tap kill from her setter spot to punctuate that one.
In the other two games, though, Whitehall kept things close. The Wildcats (38-11-6) led most of the way in the opener, but couldn’t shake Whitehall, which scored three straight while facing game point before succumbing. The third game saw Whitehall lead much of the way, but the Wildcats again came up big with the plays they needed late. The match ended with two straight Montague points, one on a Koetje kill and a second on a Whitehall net violation.
“We played a good first game and we had a chance,” Whitehall coach Ted Edsall said. “We just didn’t do the little things. Our serve and our serve receive weren’t quite good enough. I knew they had to be great tonight for us to have a chance. They’re very, very good and they played great.
“I’m really proud of our kids. We always play hard at Whitehall. We busted our butts. We were outmanned a little bit. They were better on paper for sure. I still thought we had a chance to win, but we just didn’t quite play good enough.”
Bectel wasn’t surprised Whitehall gave his team a run and said their aggressive serving at points briefly caught his team off guard.
“We adjusted well,” Bectel said. “That’s the one thing, we never really get that rattled. I knew they were going to give us a shot, and we had to just kind of withstand that and bring the momentum back to our side.”
Beating Whitehall for the title made the win especially sweet for Hall, who said her team was determined not to allow a repeat of Whitehall’s win the first time the teams played in August.
“We lost to them in a tournament way back, and they were really excited,” Hall said. “We were like, we’re never going to let that feeling happen to us again. We’re going to pound it every time we get the chance to.”
Reilly Murphy had her usual strong match opposite Hall, scoring 11 kills. The Wildcats also made only three service errors. Raegan Murphy notched 33 assists, and on defense, Reilly had 15 digs, Maddy Wynn had 14, and Taylor Netcott chipped in 13.
For Whitehall (24-23-2), Rayne Thompson had 10 kills and Charley Klint added nine. Charlie Baker posted 13 digs, and Maggie Evans and Jaden Mikkelson combined for 23 assists. However, an .045 hitting average and nine service errors were costly.
The win advanced Montague to the regional semifinals at Grand Rapids Christian on Saturday against third-ranked Coopersville. Despite the Broncos’ lofty ranking — Montague, by contrast, is honorable mention in Division 2 — Bectel’s team won’t be intimidated, having split a two-game match with them earlier this season in a tournament. The advantage of having a relatively young team (Wynn is the only senior) is the Wildcats think their best volleyball is still coming.
“They’re good,” Bectel said of Coopersville. “They’re well-coached. We’re just as good, though, and we’re going to give them a fight. We’re prepared. We have some good, smart girls and we can hang with anybody. It’s going to be a tough game...but we’re up to the challenge.
“The scary part, I’ll be honest, I don’t think we’ve given our best game yet. I always tell the girls, we try to improve every game, and we haven’t given our best yet. We’ve played good, but we haven’t put a whole night together. If we do, I really feel like we can beat anybody.”
Whitehall advances to finals
MUSKEGON — Whitehall beat Orchard View Wednesday in a district semifinal match at Oakridge, 25-21, 25-21, 25-14, to punch its ticket to a finals showdown with rival Montague.
The Vikings played a solid all-around match in the win, led by some good serving. Charley Klint paced the team with six aces.
On offense, Rayne Thompson had 15 kills and Rileigh Thommen chipped in nine. Thompson notched 14 digs, with Maggie Evans adding 12. Evans and Jaden Mikkelson had 31 combined assists.
Montague wins 1st-round match
MUSKEGON — Montague won its pre-district match Monday night against Oakridge, 25-21, 25-15, 25-11.
The Wildcats had only four aces and hit for a .207 average, but played solid volleyball and were able to dispatch the Eagles.
Reilly Murphy posted 17 kills for Montague to lead the offensive effort, and Ally Hall added 10 kills. On defense, Maddy Wynn had 21 digs and Morgan Netcott added 17. Raegan Murphy passed out 43 assists. Janae Koetje and both Murphy sisters each had two blocks.
Whitehall fights off Spring Lake
MUSKEGON — Whitehall had to go the maximum five games to earn a pre-district win Monday over Spring Lake, but the Vikings had the plays necessary to do it, winning the match 23-25, 25-19, 25-21, 23-25, 15-9.
The Vikings had to overcome 18 service errors, but coach Ted Edsall said the defense played very well to counteract those miscues.
“We made plays at the end of games to come out on top,” Edsall said.
Rayne Thompson had a big offensive night, notching 20 kills. She also had 10 digs, and served five aces. Charley Klint had 11 kills and Rileigh Thommen added 10. Ryleigh Mott led the defense with 23 digs, and Charlie Baker added 21. Maggie Evans and Jaden Mikkelson combined for 47 assists in the win.