By Dave Hart

MUSKEGON TOWNSHIP – There is a new Greater Muskegon Athletic Association City Volleyball Tournament champion.

The tournament, which pits teams from throughout Muskegon County in an annual battle for local bragging rights, has been dominated in recent years by Fruitport and Mona Shores.

Raegan Murphy sets the ball for Montague. Photo/Leo Valdez

Now, after coming close last season, the Montague Wildcats have claimed the crown. On Saturday they defeated North Muskegon in four sets in the semifinals, then beat Western Michigan Christian in four sets in the championship match at Reeths-Puffer High School.

It was the first time Montague has won the GMAA city tournament since the 1997 season.

“This has definitely not happened to Montague during my tenure,” said Wildcats coach Shawn Bectel, whose team is now 28-4 on the season. “We have been ranked number one, but have never managed to finish. We have a lot of lofty goals this year, and this was one of them.”

The next goal for the Wildcats is winning the regular season West Michigan Conference championship, which they will try to do on Tuesday in a rematch with North Muskegon. The two teams are currently tied at the top of the conference standings.

“This is a big week for us, and there is a lot on the line in the next few days,” Bectel said.

The Wildcats advanced to the city tournament championship match last season before losing to Fruitport. But they came home with the trophy this time after beating a tough WMC squad 25-10, 25-11, 25-27, 25-18 in the title match.

Montague jumped out to a 4-1 lead in the first set before giving up seven of the next 11 points, which forced an 8-8 tie early on.

Madison Wiersema digs the ball for WMC. Photo/Leo Valdez

But then Montague went on a tear, outscoring the Warriors 17-2, sparked by a long service run by Taylor Netcott. That was enough to nail down the first set and set the tone for the match.

“Whenever I’m serving, I try to serve close to 100 percent,” said Netcott, who achieved that goal on Saturday by getting every serve in play. “I just try to get it in and relax while other servers try to spot serve.

“We are really happy to win it this year, because we almost won it last year but fell short.”

The Wildcats trailed early in the second set by a 3-1 margin, but went on a 12-2 run to take a 13-5 lead with solid service runs from Morgan Netcott and Reilly Murphy. Montague also took advantage of a few miscues made by the Warriors.

Montague closed the set with a 9-2 burst, after leading 16-9 with strong play in front of the net by Janae Koetje.

It looked like the Wildcats were going to clinch the title with a sweep after jumping out to leads of 10-3, 16-8 and 19-10 in the third set.

But the Warriors continued to fight by going on a 12-3 streak, which included a long service run by Alisha Leffring, to tie the set at 22-22.

Montague’s Allison Hall spikes the ball. Photo/Leo Valdez

WMC finished strong by scoring five of the last eight points to force a fourth set.

The Wildcats bounced back early in the fourth, jumping out to a commanding 15-3 lead. Morgan Netcott and Reilly Murphy had long service runs for Montague during that stretch.

The Warriors continued to fight by scoring 12 of the next 18 points to cut their deficit to 21-15.  But Montague prevented another comeback by scoring four of the final seven points to seal the match and the tournament title.

The Wildcats were led by Reilly Murphy, who had 36 total kills in the semifinals and finals, while Ally Hall added 23. Raegan Murphy and Morgan Netcott each served six aces on the day.

Raegan Murphy chipped in with 92 assists, while the Wildcats were paced defensively by Morgan Netcott with 40 digs and Reilly Murphy with 29.

Saturday was the first time in school history that Western Michigan Christian advanced to a GMAA city volleyball tournament finals. The Warriors got there by upsetting Mona Shores in the semifinals earlier in the day in a grueling five-set match.

“I was really happy for us to make it to the finals,” said WMC coach Trent Smillie. “The girls worked really hard to get here without one of our starters, who is dealing with an injury right now.”

Kyla Wiersema paced WMC on the day with 33 kills. Leffring added 20 while Kendal Young set up the offense with 78 assists.

Defensively, Wiersema had 30 digs and Young added 25. Wiersema also led with nine blocks and Leffring chipped in eight.

The Warriors are now 21-11 on the season.