By Noah Genson
After falling to Fruitport a few weeks ago in the GMAA City Tournament championship match, the Montague volleyball team had a potential rematch in districts circled on its calendar.
The Wildcats’ chance came on Wednesday, and they took full advantage, downing the Trojans 3-1 in a Division 2 district semifinal match at Oakridge High School.
The set scores were 25-21, 25-16, 15-25 and 25-18.
Montague, now 41-12-1 on the season, will face rival Whitehall on Thursday night at 7 p.m. in the district title match at Oakridge.
Montague Coach Shawn Bectel said he took a good long look at the film from the city tournament loss to better understand what his girls needed to do better.
Whatever adjustments he made seemed to work, because the Wildcats were in control most of the way.
“We really worked hard in practice all week,” said Bectel. “Fruitport’s a really good team that is really well coached, and we knew we had to be ready for anything, and we were.”
Neither team was able to make much headway in the first set, and were deadlocked 16-16. But strong service runs late in the set from Raegan and Reilley Murphy helped propel the Wildcats to a 25-21 win and a 1-0 lead.
Even though Reilley Murphy is known for her offensive prowess, Bectel noticed her effort all over the court on Wednesday, and said that’s the type of leader his team needs.
“She’s a special player,” the coach said. “Last year she would’ve told you her defense was terrible, and now, she worked on it, got better, and she still hits. She’s the kind of player you always want on the floor.”
Reilley made her presence felt in the second set, scoring four of the first six points for the Wildcats, who jumped out to an 11-4 lead. The Trojans made a late run to cut into that lead, but it was too little, too late as Montague ran away with the set 25-16.
Fruitport did not go down without landing a punch. The Trojans raced to a huge 18-8 advantage in the third set and won 25-15.
Fruitport Coach Nicole Bayle gave her girls credit for putting up a fight and serving well in the third set.
”We’ve got a bunch of girls that don’t quit,” she said. “We got control of the set early with our serves, and that’s what really kept us going.”
Montague and Fruitport each had leads of three points early in the fourth set, and were tied 11-11.
But it was all Montague the rest of the way. The Wildcats collected three kills apiece from Ally Hall and Reilley Murphy down the stretch to take a 25-18 victory and close out the match.
Montague was led by Reilley Murphy and Hall with 19 and 15 kills, respectively, while Hall and Janae Koetje added six and five blocks.
Brooke Sieplinga had six kills to lead the Trojans while Madalyn Fett and Ellie Fisher each added five. Fruitport ended the season with a 17-22-2 record.
“Record-wise this may not have been the best year the program has had, but when you put into perspective that we were second in our conference and won the city championship, with all the struggles we had early in the year, I’m very proud of what this team was able to accomplish,” Bayle said.
With Whitehall on deck in the championship match, and the familiarity that the two teams have with each other, Bectel knows his players will have to bring their A-game.
“Coach Edsall is a great coach who’s been doing it for a long time,” Bectel said about the Whitehall coach. “We’ve played them tough the past two times we’ve seen them, and I don’t expect us to do anything less.”