GLADWIN COUNTY – The Michigan High School Athletic association (MHSAA) state volleyball tournament gets started tonight for both of our local teams. Beaverton plays Pinconning in Farwell in the Division 3 tournament. Gladwin is in Standish to play Remus Chippewa Hills in the Division 2 tournament. The teams enter the tournament with widely divergent expectations. Beaverton is a veteran team that is currently ranked fifth in the state. They are hoping for a return trip to Battle Creek for the State Finals. Gladwin, on the other hand is young with only two seniors on the team and hoping to pick up valuable experience for the future.
The Beavers are a veteran squad with five seniors on the team and three other girls who played significant roles in last season’s run to the state finals. “There are definitely some areas in which we are better than last year, and others where we are not quite as good, said Coach Steve Evans when I asked him to compare last years team to his current group. “We have also focused and emphasized some different areas this year. Overall we are probably a little better.”
Evans mentioned that he learned a number of years ago that it is important to “coach to the next level.” If a player or team is ready to take the next step you have to push them to make the jump. Several years ago Roscommon was that step for Beaverton. They were the best team in the conference and the Beaverton coaching staff designed their offense and defense to beat them. “Last year we lost to the state champion,” he said. “We got a view of a different level, it’s not often that you get a second chance to bring your team back to go for it again.”
If the Beavers do get that second chance it will be with a team that is more versatile. We have been moving people around all season to keep teams guessing. “We don’t want to be one dimensional where a team can watch five minutes of film and know what we are going to do.” One point that Evans always makes is that the next game is the most important. When we talked last Thursday, that next team was supposed to be Harrison, but due to a covid exposure they have been forced to bow out of the tournament.
Pinconning is now the Beavers first opponent in what will be a district semi-final match. The Spartans finished third in the Jack Pine Conference falling to Beaverton in both matches this season. If Beaverton wins on Wednesday they will face either Houghton Lake or Farwell in the district finals. Evans doesn’t speculate about anything past the district. He and the team know what is out there because they traveled that road last year. He said, “we know what it looks like but we don’t care because there is one team in our way right now (Pinconning) and that’s the only team we talk about.”
His team is the same way. He said that they don’t look past teams. “They really have a next team mindset, they aren’t going to take anybody for granted. I really love that about these guys.” He also said, “I owe it to the seniors to make sure I do everything to keep them where they need to be mentally, they don’t need the pressure of getting to Battle Creek at this point.” He’s obviously right; you can’t get to Battle Creek without winning this week.
With apologies to Taylor Vasher and Emma Schwan this year’s tournament run for the Flying G’s is about building experience. With only two seniors on the team Gladwin is probably the youngest group in their district. With that in mind Coach Tony Wetmore is trying to prepare his young girls for what to expect. His sophomores have never experienced a “win or go home” scenario. The pressure may be difficult to deal with this year, but should pay off going forward.
“Teams usually play better when their backs are against the wall,” said Wetmore. “Our sophomores have never experienced the pace and intensity that the playoffs bring out.” He did say that his seniors are working very hard; they want to keep playing one more game. “We need everyone to feel their intensity.”
Due to multiple cancellations from earlier this year Gladwin has not played Chippewa Hills this season. They also do not have any common opponents so the Flying G’s don’t know what to expect. Based on past experience Wetmore believes that they have a chance to pull out a win. “If we play with consistency we have a chance,” he said. “Some of our best matches this year have been against non conference opponents.” He also likes his chance against Clare. The Pioneers have beaten Gladwin twice this season, but Gladwin has played well in those contests. “With a little bit of luck I think we can play well and win.”