Gielczyk: Kingsley Reflects on Historic Volleyball Campaign
They’d been to the state volleyball finals before as spectators, starting when they were in middle school, and dreamed of the day when they might take the floor as competitors on the big stage.
Well, that dream finally became reality for the seven seniors on the Kingsley volleyball team when the Stags went up against No. 1-ranked Grand Rapids Christian at Battle Creek last Friday.
Kingsley won its first district title just three years ago, and never really expected to make the jump so quickly. But thanks to hard work and perseverance the Stags found themselves one step away from the state championship match.
But the Eagles brought an abrupt end to the Stags’ historic run with a 3-0 sweep 21-25, 14-25 and 10-25.
“Just to play in Battle Creek was a dream come true for most of them,” Kingsley head coach Dave Hall said. “Having gone from Class C to Class B, or Division 3 to Division 2, we looked at those B teams over the years and in C we were competitive and in B no way.
“They are just so good. The quality of play is so, so high. The last 10 years we’ve watched that, (and) in my mind (thought) ‘We’re never going to get there’ because if you don’t have three Division 1 (college caliber) players and five six-footers and a six-four girl, you can compete at that level. To actually get there is pretty cool.”
Size was a factor in the semifinal, with the Eagles having a distinct size advantage at the net.
Grand Rapids’ setter is 5-11, and the Eagles’ libero was 5-8. Kingsley’s tallest player was 5-11, and one of the Stags’ middle hitters is 5-7. The Eagles were definitely presented matchup problems for the Stags.
As defending state champions, the Eagles were heavy favorites going into the match. But the Stags really felt that if they played their best game they could hang with them.
It looked like they would when they lost the first set by only four points, exchanging punches with the Eagles from start to finish. But the Eagles brought it up to the next level over the next two sets and kind of ran away with it.
“We didn’t play our best. At that level you have to play your absolute best game of the year,” Hall added. “I don’t think we did in the second and third sets. I’m not sure that if we would have if we would have beat them anyways.”
Every team’s goal is to win a state title. But, realistically that’s not typically Kingsley’s goal.
It’s a path usually strewn with landmines.
Hall wasn’t sure the Stags would be as strong this year with Jessica Leffler playing at Ferris State and losing two other starters to graduation creating turnover and transition that can be disruptive.
Austyn DeWeese suffered an abdominal strain late in the season and Hall wasn’t sure that the Stags would have her for the playoffs at all. That changed their outlook going into districts.
But by the time regionals rolled around, DeWeese was at or close to 100 percent.
“We got really hot at the quarterfinal (match),” Hall said. “We played really well.”
It was a record-setting, as well as historic season for the Stags all the way around.
Along the way to their first even semifinal appearance Kingsley set a school record with its 58 victories (58-8-3), Maddie Bies set the single season assist record with over 1,500 and Brittany Bowman finished the season with 2,300 digs to beat the old record by a ton.
Lark Jankewicz established a single season mark with 729 digs. The old record was 705.
Next year will be a challenge for Hall.
Kingsley graduates seven seniors off this year’s team. All of them started, and contributed quite a bit so Hall will be basically rebuilding the entire starting lineup.
One of the juniors coming back who was a right side hitter is being moved to setter, meaning that there won’t be a single girl playing the same position next season.
“But, we’ve got some talented kids, and kids that learned a lot,” Hall said. “We had a nice meeting at the state final event, where we talked about what we learned, what the juniors learned from the seniors.
“Just work ethic, and they come to practice every day trying to get better, and not just showing up to show up. I think that message to the juniors is loud and clear.
“You have to bring your lunch bucket and plan on being there all day and work. I think a lot of those younger kids really stepped their games up over the last couple of weeks.”
Hall expects to have some sophomores coming up from a junior varsity team that went 38-6 that he feels should be able to contribute
The Stags won’t be very big. They’re losing all their size. But Hall believes they should be solid on defense.
“It’s almost like an era change for me,” Hall said. “Brittany Bowman has been with me for four years, and four of the other seniors were with me for three years.
“We’re not just losing talented players, but great kids. Five of the seniors were Academic All-State. Very, very smart bunch of kids. Hard work and good kids.
“As well as losing a lot of talent, we’re losing some really high quality, good kids that we really bonded with and have had them for a long time. Sad to see them go, for sure.”
Hall says he’s going to have to coach a little harder next year, but looks forward to the challenge.
For the returning players who didn’t see the floor a lot with the seniors carrying the load it’s their chance to shine.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org for story ideas.