By Dave Hart

MONTAGUE – It’s no secret that the Montague volleyball team has very high expectations this season.

Early in the season Montague coach Shawn Bectel stated that his team was pushing for success at the GMAA city tournament, in the West Michigan Conference, and finally in the state tournament.

Raegan Murphy goes for the kill against North Muskegon’s No. 10 Molly Stewart. Photo/Leo Valdez

The Wildcats, who won their first city tournament in over 20 years last Saturday, checked the second box on their list of goals on Tuesday by defeating North Muskegon in four sets by scores of 25-14, 22-25, 26-24 and 25-19.

The victory gave Montague, now 29-4 overall and 7-0 in league play, their second straight conference championship,

The Wildcats, who are ranked in the top five in the state, will now look to achieve their third goal of the season, starting with districts in a couple of weeks.

“They came to play tonight,” said Bectel about North Muskegon, which came into the winner-take-all match tied with Montague for the conference lead. “They didn’t lay down at all, and we fought with them.”

The Wildcat seniors led the way, with Reilly Murphy nailing 25 kills while Ally Hall added 23. Reagan Murphy set up the offense with 56 assists to go along with six aces.

Montague was paced defensively by junior Morgan Netcott with 20 digs while Hall and Reilly Murphy had 11 and 10, respectively.

“Tonigh I just rode those seniors, and I thought they stepped up to the challenge,” Bectel said. “They are battle-tested and have played a lot of volleyball in their lives, and with Senior Day it was an emotional time. They did a good job pulling each other together.” 

The Wildcats never trailed during the first set, jumping out to a 12-6 lead in the early going. Hall served a pair of aces during that stretch and scored several points at the net.

Josee Cooke sends a shot over Montague’s No. 3 Reilly Murphy and 11 Allison Hall. Photo/Leo Valdez

Montague scored the final five points of the opening set after leading 20-14. Morgan Netcott closed the set with a nice service run.

The Norse battled back in the second set, opening with a 6-1 run to set the tone. 

North Muskegon took advantage of Wildcat miscues during service runs by Megan and Emma Houseman.

The Norse led 16-9 before Montague went on an 11-4 tear to force a 20-20 tie. Raegan Murphy had a long service run and Reilly Murphy scored four points during the Wildcat spurt.

North Muskegon managed to keep its composure, however, closing the second set by scoring five of the final seven points to tie the match up at 1-1.

The Norse continued their strong play in the third set, jumping out to a 10-4 lead. Syann Fairfield had a strong service run and scored some points T the net, while both Natalie Pannucci and Josee Cooke played strong up front.

The Wildcats finally tied the set at 15-15, North Muskegon went up 22-20, then Montague finally pulled it out down the stretch with a 6-2 run to take a 2-1 lead in the match,

“That Game 3 was a must,” Bectel said. “We haven’t had to go five sets yet this season, and they have, and we didn’t start off great early in these sets.”

The Wildcats rode the momentum into the fourth set by leading 8-2, 12-4 and 16-8. Both Raegan Murphy and Reilly Murphy had long service runs during that stretch.

North Muskegon tried hard to mount a late comeback, but could only cut its deficit to 23-19, before the Wildcats closed out the match on points from Hall and Raegan Murphy.

The Norse were led by Fairfield with 15 kills while Pannucci added nine. Emma Houseman had 36 assists.

North Muskegon was paced defensively by Fairfield with 22 digs.

“I think we fought well,” said North Muskegon coach Heather Claussen, whose team is now 18-11 overall 6-1 in conference action. “They are a very talented, diverse team and we just couldn’t hang with them tonight.”