BATTLE CREEK – The Beavers’ magical run came to an end Friday afternoon when they lost to eventual State Champions Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central in three sets. Beaverton entered the match on an incredible high after beating Traverse City St. Francis in the quarterfinals. In that match the Beavers fell behind early before regrouping and going on to dominate St. Francis winning in three sets and earning their trip to Battle Creek.
The volleyball finals are played at Kellogg Arena, which seems to have been built with this event in mind. The setting is both large and intimate at the same time. Over the years the Michigan High School Athletic Association has gotten a lot of grief for its treatment of high school volleyball, but their choice of Kellogg Arena as the site for the Volleyball Final Four should be applauded. The stands were packed from end line to end line, and each school is allotted a student cheering section at opposite ends of the court. By game time the emotions in the arena had reached a fever pitch.
Volleyball seems to be dominated “legacy programs.” The same teams appear in the final four, year after year. By beating St. Francis, Beaverton became only the second Jack Pine Conference team to qualify for the semifinals. Roscommon achieved the feat in 2014 losing to Schoolcraft in the semifinals. Monroe St. Mary then defeated Schoolcraft to claim the state championship that year. Bronson, another legacy program, had won four straight Class C State Championships before being eliminated by Schoolcraft in regional play this year. The Bronson state championships were bookended by St. Mary/Schoolcraft state championship matches both of which were won by St. Mary.
Beaverton hopes to become one of those programs. Three juniors, Mady Pahl, Molly Gerow, and Becca Wirt spoke with the media after the game and while they were disappointed with the loss, and all three were grateful for the experience. When asked about the atmosphere in the arena Wirt got a big smile on her face and said it was “crazy.” It was clear that the girls appreciated all the support that they received along the way. Pahl said, “It was a lifetime experience,” and Gerow added that it was “something different, for sure.”
When asked about next year all of them said that the experience would make them work harder for next year. This is a supremely confident group of athletes and it showed in the way they handled the media exposure after the game. They are proud of what they accomplished, but want more.
The Kestrels have been one of the best teams in the state. This was there sixth state championship since 2007 so the Beavers knew that they were in for a tough match. Coach Steve Evans said that “they can attack from everywhere and they can keep the ball off the floor like it is easy for them.” He went on to say, “you are not going to stop 8 (Mikayla Haut, 24 kills and 20 digs) so we have to slow them down in other ways, we tried to make their setter play the ball as many times as possible and get them uncomfortable.”
“We also tried to push tempo on them and send the ball over a little sooner than they might expect,” continued Evans. “We were successful at times but when they had us out of system we had a hard time getting the ball where we wanted to.”
Evans went on to talk about how good his team has been at playing “one game at a time.” He said, “Eventually it will all sink in and they will be able to look at all they accomplished.” The Beavers finished the season 46-2-1 and won the schools first regional and quarterfinal. “We have nothing to hang our heads about,” he said. “I’ll remember the feeling this morning when we were waiting to leave to come here at the hotel and it’s 30 minutes before we leave and there’s a knock, coach we have to go now, we have to get there. They just wanted to be here so bad.”
“I’ll never forget their faces as we walked into the building when they saw they had earned this.”
Beaverton travels well and supports its young athletes. Whether it is a football game in New Lothrop or Volleyball contests in Houghton Lake or Battle Creek the community shows up. The people of Beaverton go all out for their kids and the kid’s notice. Later in the interview as the gravity of the situation seemed to settle in the girls were very thankful for that support. They became somewhat emotional when talking about it. “No matter what we do, they’ve got out backs,” said Pahl. Gerow added, “There are people out there that aren’t from Beaverton wearing red.” They also will never forget how their fans rose to their feet and clapped as the game wound down.
Pahl led the Beavers with 15 assists, 15 digs and 6 kills. Gerow also had six kills and nine digs. Averie Bassage and Macie Jerome had 10 digs apiece, Wirt had four kills, Alexis Grove added three kills and eight digs, while Hannah Sterns also had three kills and seven digs.
I don’t think that once is going to be enough for this group. The program has been building and as Evans said, “they enjoyed every minute of it, they fought hard, played a good team, and they just kept fighting and fighting through the whole thing.” Macie Jerome and Averie bassage are going to be tough to replace, but this group is more than a team it has become a program and programs don’t fade when players graduate. I have a feeling that the Beavers will become regulars in Battle Creek, but I’m sure they will never forget this first trip.