By Dave Hart

EGELSTON TOWNSHIP – With all of the talented players and regular season success it’s had, it’s hard to believe the Montague volleyball team last won a district title four years ago.

Ally Hall blocks at the net for Montague. Photo/Leo Valdez

The Wildcats won a Class C title in 2015, then moved up to Division 2 and had not been able to repeat the feat since then.

That drought finally ended on Thursday when Montague cruised past conference rival Whitehall in three straight sets to capture a Division 2 district championship at Oakridge High School.

The Wildcats, now 43-12-1 on the season, won by set scores of 25-23, 25-12 and 26-24. They will now face Coopersville on Tuesday at Grand Rapids South Christian in the regional semifinal round. Play will begin at 5:30 p.m.

While Montague managed to win all three sets, the competition was fierce from the beginning, which is fitting for a battle between the neighboring rivals.

The Vikings jumped out to a 5-2 advantage in the first set and led 9-7 before Montague pulled ahead. The Wildcats had a 9-1 spurt on a long service run by Taylor Netcott to take a 16-10 advantage.

Whitehall managed to cut its deficit to 24-23 after going on a 14-7 run, but Montague managed to close out the set by scoring the final point on a miscue by the Vikings.

“We knew that Whitehall was going to come out aggressively,” said Montague coach Shawn Bectel. “One thing about our team is we never get rattled, and we knew they were going to give us a shot. I knew we had to withstand that and bring the momentum back to our side.”

Whitehall’s Ryan Thompson makes a play at the net. Photo/Leo Valdez

The Wildcats maintained the momentum throughout the second set, sparked by great service runs by Ally Collins and Madelyn Wynn. Montague closed out the set with a 10-2 run, behind strong net play by Janae Koetje and Raegan Murphy.

“We really got our flow going during that second set,” Bectel said.

Whitehall opened the third set strong, taking a 3-0 lead and building it to 15-9, behind strong service runs from Maggie Evans and Charlie Baker.

But Montague won 11 of the next 13 points behind another long service run from Netcott and grabbed a 20-17 lead.

The Vikings responded by winning 7 of the next 11 points to force a 24-24 tie, then Montague stole the set and clinched the match and championship with a kill by Koetje and a Whitehall miscue on the final play.

Montague was paced by Ally Hall with 12 kills while Reilly Murphy added 11. Raegan Murphy directed traffic with 33 assists.

The Wildcats were led defensively by Reilly Murphy with 15 digs and Wynn with 14.

“We played a good first set and we had a chance,” said Whitehall coach Ted Edsall. “We just didn’t do the little things and they are a great team. I am really proud of our kids for playing hard.”

The Vikings, who finished second in the West Michigan Conference behind Montague, ended the season with an overall 24-23-2 record. They were led by Rayne Thompson with 10 kills, Evans with 13 assists and Baker with 13 digs.