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Prep volleyball state tournament: Tigers march on

No. 1 St. Philip handles No. 6 Tri-unity Christian in regional semis


12:00 AM, Nov. 06, 2012 EST

St. Philip senior setter Lenae Lesiow (1) and teammate Jaclyn Behnke (11) react to the Tigers' first set victory during their sweep over Wyoming Tri-unity Christian in a Class D regional semifinal on Tuesday at Climax-Scotts. / Robert Youngs Jr./For the Enquirer

CLIMAX — 

In St. Philip vs. Wyoming Tri-unity Christian part two, it was a different year, different round -- same ending.

The six-time defending Class D state champion Tigers moved on to the regional finals at Climax-Scotts High School thanks to their 3-0 (25-19, 25-18, 25-15) victory over the Defenders on Tuesday. The two teams last met in the 2011 state final in Battle Creek.

The top-ranked Tigers (69-2-1) will play Muskegon Catholic Central in the regional championship on Thursday at 7 p.m. MCC advanced with a 18-25, 25-12, 25-29, 25-19 win over Fowler.

St. Philip trailed sixth-ranked Tri-unity (32-9-6) in all three sets of the semifinal, but never let the deficit get to more than three points. St. Philip head coach Vicky Groat didn't even need to use a timeout to settle her experienced squad down.

"The first four or five points there is always going to be nerves on both sides, and we're supposed to have the experience, but every year its different," Groat said. "There was never a time that you could relax. They were going to keep coming and coming. ... Tri-unity is a good team and a good program, and they were ready to go. I don't think we came out with the fire that we needed to."

St. Philip got on track in each set by relying on its go-to players -- senior Amanda McKinzie and junior Sierra Hubbard Neil. McKinzie, a Miss Volleyball Award candidate committed to Virginia Tech, finished with a match-high 16 kills along with nine digs and two aces. Hubbard Neil, who is getting Division I interest, finished with 11 kills and 15 digs.

Hubbard Neil admitted it can be tough to not get rattled when opponents are so fired up to play against a St. Philip team that many expect to contend if not win a state title every year.

"We all know if a team gets a block or a point, we know they are going to go crazy," Hubbard Neil said. "We have to keep in mind its just one point and we can go get the next one. We have to block out the crowd and just play our game.

"It's tough because it sometimes gets to us, so you just have to stay focused.

"When coach doesn't call a timeout, it's because she trusts us. We have leaders on the court and on the bench."

Other leaders for St. Philip included senior Samantha Ellis with seven kills, four assists, three digs and two aces; senior Lenae Lesiow with 36 assists and nine digs; senior Natalie Gallagher with eight digs; senior Casey Gallagher with six kills, one ace and one dig; and junior Rachel Gallagher with five digs.

The Tigers can likely boast the most state tournament experience of any team in Michigan. All six of St. Philip's starters have played on at least one state championship team.

"The senior leadership, it showed. A lot of talk out there, so they did well," Groat said. "I'm happy and proud, we're playing Thursday night in the regional finals, so we'll move on to the next one."

 

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Battle Creek, MI
18-2-0
2 Lumen Christi Catholic HS
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22-1-0
3 Kalamazoo Central HS
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19-3-0
4 Hillsdale HS
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23-1-0
5 Gull Lake Schools
Richland, MI
15-7-0

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