Gielczyk: Pentwater Continues League Dominance
Only two more dates remain on the regular season schedule for the Pentwater volleyball team, which continued their domination of the Western Michigan D League this season in earning its fifth consecutive title.
For the second consecutive year the Falcons did not drop a single set in conference competition, despite having to work several new players into the starting rotation. But, as usual, coach Kerry Newberg had a solid core of veterans coming back to help ease the transition.
The Falcons improved their record to 26-5 overall after sweeping a triangular meet Tuesday night, beating Hart and Muskegon Catholic Central each in two sets while taking three to dispatch Manistee, just four days after going 4-0 in the WMD tournament on Saturday to win the league title outright.
Defeating Muskegon Catholic was a high water mark for the Falcons, because the Crusaders have been ranked pretty much all season. Pentwater had also knocked them off in its home tournament in September.
Catholic is in the Falcons region, and Pentwater could see them again, and already having two wins over the Crusaders
Newberg counts herself fortunate to have had young players who have really grown with the program and quickly transitioned into the program to make an impact on the team’s success.
Senior middle hitter Taylor Wilkinson is a prime example. She was in the eighth grade when Newberg became the Falcons coach five years ago, and despite preferring basketball early on, she gradually came to truly love volleyball.
Wilkinson reached a prestigious milestone Tuesday with her 1,000th kill. She still has several matches left to add to that total.
“Every year it seems I’ll add some young players, but then I’ll have my core of girls who have played varsity for two or three years as well,” Newberg said. “They just become, obviously, better and better. Most teams don’t seem to have an answer for some of the hitters that I have.
“(Taylor) really works hard in the offseason. She lifts weights. She watches her diet, which with high school kids is rather unique, I think. She tore her ACL during basketball season early last year.”
After surgery to repair the injury, Wilkinson spent a lot of time to rehabilitate the knee, but almost came back too soon.
Injured two weeks into the basketball season, Wilkinson — a multiple sport athlete — hated being sidelined, and decided to come back to the boys golf team full force in the spring. But, she tweaked the knee again and was forced to take more time off.
Determined to get back to full strength again, Wilkinson redoubled her rehab efforts, and was ready to resume volleyball practice full tilt. The Falcons were relieved to see her practicing at 100 percent, too.
“She’s a great leader, and is the hardest working girl at practice,” said Newberg. “So, she kind of sets the tone for the team, and everyone else around her. She’s a great role model. She’s a dominant basketball player as well.
“She was killing it in basketball, and I was always messing with her, telling her ‘You could be this way in volleyball, too.’ But, she said ‘I play basketball, and I play volleyball in the offseason.’ Now, it’s kind of switched around.”
Another middle hitter for the Falcons is junior Julia Hall, who is in her fourth year on the varsity. She’s a sprinter and long jumper on the track team, and can almost hurdle the net with her great jumping ability. Hall has qualified for the MHSAA Division 4 state championships in both events.
Newberg also has sophomore Terra Cluchey, a strong passer who has been the team’s libero in the past, but this year has been playing front row as well. Because her lack of height, at only 5-foot-4, Newberg will probably moving her back to libero full time.
Pentwater competes at a tournament in Hesperia this week where the Falcons will see larger schools, and then close out the regular season with a triangular at Houghton before heading into districts at Onekama.
“When we play those bigger schools, we typically see bigger kids,” Newberg added. “That helps prepare us to see (Mount Pleasant) Sacred Heart, because they have some big kids. I feel pretty confident.
“I like that we have an entire tournament and another tri (meet), where I’m going to put in this newer system so they can get comfortable in that, especially my younger players. I have a lot of veterans out there. They’ve seen years of this, so I can move them around pretty easily. It’s just some of those younger players I want to get comfortable in a new spot, or playing next to a couple of new kids in our defense and whatnot.
“But, they’re all very athletic. They’re really smart volleyball players, so I’m pretty confident that we’re going to make it work.”
The Falcons are focused on winning their sixth straight district title, but they’ve been talking about facing the Irish again, who have blocked their path to the state quarterfinals. They talk about Sacred Heart all the time.
Sacred Heart has definitely been on the Falcons’ radar.
Greg Gielczyk is an award-winning sports columnist and sportwriter who worked a total 36 years — interrupted for an 18-month period from 1997-99 — at the Manistee News Advocate as sports editor until 2006 and is now retired. He currently is a freelance sportswriter for the Ludington Daily News. Gielczyk can be reached at email@example.com for story ideas.