Photos by Scott DeCamp | CatchMark
FREMONT — The Ludington volleyball team’s historic state tournament run was bound to end this week no matter what, as the MHSAA season concludes with this weekend’s championships.
The Orioles were hoping to make the trip to Battle Creek’s Kellogg Arena, but the journey ended Tuesday night a little short of their ultimate goal.
Ludington’s tough, five-set loss to Grand Rapids West Catholic in the Division 2 state quarterfinals at Fremont High School signaled the end of the road. The Orioles won the first (25-23) and fourth (25-18) sets, while the Falcons took sets two (25-18), three (25-16), and the decisive fifth (15-11).
Ludington (42-11-2) closes its highly successful season with another West Michigan Conference Lakes Division title, the program’s first district crown since 2004, the first regional championship since 1997, lots of great memories, and hardly a regret.
“I can’t knock it. We made it through regionals — first time in 26 years for Ludington,” Ludington second-year coach Liz Holden said. “Like I told the girls, ‘You have nothing to be ashamed of.’ I’m proud of them regardless of what happened tonight and they played hard and fought all the way to the end.
“Ultimately, yeah, it hurts. It’s hard. But they had a great season and I can’t be upset about that.”
West Catholic (35-9-6) advances to Thursday’s 4:30 p.m. state semifinal at Kellogg Arena, where the Falcons will face Milan (29-7-2), which swept Dearborn Divine Child in the quarterfinals. It’s West Catholic’s first-ever state semifinals appearance.
West Catholic lost to Cadillac in last year’s state quarterfinals. Ultimately, the Falcons had just a little bit more in the tank than the Orioles at the end of Tuesday’s thriller.
Neither team had played a five-setter in this state tourney prior to Tuesday. Ludington led by a few points in the fifth set up to 15, but West Catholic found a way.
“I just told the kids, it’s got to be one point at a time when you’re playing a short game like that,” West Catholic coach Megan Eversman said. “I don’t know how they did it, but the fight that they had was just (key to winning). It was just great to watch them fight together.”
Ludington rode a wave of emotion from the fourth set into the fifth, but once West Catholic wrestled away the momentum, the Orioles were unable to get it back.
“I think maybe just our energy (slipped),” said Ludington senior libero Karli Mesyar, who on Monday signed to play volleyball at Kalamazoo Valley Community College. “We talk a lot about our energy and trying to keep up our energy. … I think today our energy just started to slip a little bit in that fifth set. Once they started getting more points, we were kind of like, ‘Oh, crap.'”
Mesyar finished the night with 30 digs and an assist. Ludington senior Maddy Vaara totaled 19 kills, 11 digs, two blocks, one assist, and one ace. Orioles junior Jordyn Anderson recorded 36 assists, 27 digs, three kills, three blocks, and one ace. Ludington senior Ashley McPike had 12 kills, four blocks, four digs, and two aces.
Other stats for Ludington: Senior Mia Voss with two digs, two kills, and two blocks; sophomore Lilly Slater with two digs and one assist; sophomore Jaelyn Laird with five kills, three blocks, and two digs; senior Mya Bryant with 13 digs; and senior Mia Pung with 12 digs.
“Oh, my gosh, they’re a phenomenal volleyball team,” Eversman said about Ludington. “Their kids played so well tonight. We knew it was all about stopping Maddy and one of their middles. They showed up and they gave our kids a fight, but she’s got a great volleyball club and I’m (grateful) that we got to be on the stage together this part of the tournament.”
West Catholic’s roster features five seniors and the rest juniors. The future looks promising for the Falcons.
As for Ludington, the Orioles will graduate six seniors. It’s always difficult to say good-bye to the seniors and there are some talented players departing, but Holden is determined to continue building the program.
Vaara, a 6-foot outside hitter, who signed to play volleyball at Ferris State University, said she will miss the team culture.
“All the girls were super sweet, they were all super kind,” she said. “Everything about the team I loved. Every single girl was empowering other girls to do better every single day.
“I’m super proud. We haven’t done this in like 20-some years, going to regionals and taking the (championship). I’m so proud of the girls for pushing as hard as they possibly can.”
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