By Greg Gielczyk
Just shy of 20 years, in fact. So it’s clearly uncharted waters for the Orioles.
Avoiding the slow starts that have been an all-too-common habit for them this season, the Orioles rode the momentum of Wednesday night’s semifinal victory to a convincing 3-0 dusting of Big Rapids in Thursday night’s district final.
The Orioles dominated the Cardinals right from the opening serve, setting the tone with a 25-9 win in the first set and then rolling, 25-15 and 25-11.
When the girls hoisted the championship trophy as the fans celebrated around them in the Hart gymnasium, none of them had tasted this kind of success before.
In fact, none of the current crop of players were even born the last time the Orioles won a district title in 2004.
Ludington had to rally from a five-point deficit in the second set against Reed City. But, that wasn’t needed this time.
“Yes, the girls showed up right away,” said Ludington coach Liz Holden. “They played amazing and clicked immediately. Their net play was on point tonight. Our defense wasn’t letting anything hit the floor. I saw a team that couldn’t be stopped on the court. The girls brought energy and confidence.
“They wanted this win. I wouldn’t say there was any point in the match that I felt the girls dropped energy, or slumped at all. They just played so well all the way through.”
Holden addressed the second set problems Ludington had in the Reed City match while the team huddled before the second set started.
The message was simple.
“I just said ‘You know how that felt, how much stressful that is and how hard you had to work.’ I said ‘We just have to work hard in the beginning so that we don’t have to stress so much about the score and just put balls away.’”
“I’ve seen them come from behind a lot. Even in our (West Michigan Conference Lakes Division) tournament final with Whitehall I believe it was 3-8 and they (the Vikings) were ahead almost the entire (set) and we came back.
“So they know how to work hard, they know to do things under pressure. It’s just a matter of not having that added pressure that sometimes we struggle with. That added pressure pushes us, whereas now they’re ready to push themselves.”
Karli Mesyar led Ludington’s stout defense for the Orioles with 17 digs, and she also contributed two assists and one kill. Maddy Vaara came through big defensively as well with nine digs, while her swing was on point with 18 kills.
Ashley McPike played well at the attack position and finished with eight kills and added four digs, four blocks and two aces. Jaelyn Laird had seven kills, four blocks and one dig. Jordyn Anderson set up the Ludington offense, putting the ball in the right spots for the hitters and ending up with 32 assists. She also had two kills and three blocks.
Lily Slater contributed six digs and one block, Mia Voss had three kills, My Bryant finished with three digs and one assist and Mia Pung added four digs, one ace and one assist.
Ludington improved to 17-3 on the season and next plays Gladwin (28-8-2) in the Region 9 semifinal at Gaylord next Tuesday at 6 p.m. The Orioles last won a regional match in 1997, so they’re hoping to break that streak as well.
Check out more photos shot by Joe Washington.