PIERCE — For the Pierce Bluejays, a match against a familiar foe had a somewhat similar result on Tuesday night, as they defeated the Battle Creek Bravettes in straight sets to win the C1-7 subdistrict title 25-20, 25-18, 25-21.
Pierce and Battle Creek played for the Mid-State Conference title last Thursday, with Pierce prevailing three sets to one.
The Bluejays were five points away from a spot in Saturday’s district final but held a slim 20-19 lead over the Fightin’ River in the third set. A block at the net by Elly Piper and Kennedy Warneke sparked a 5-1 run, but a kill by Kenna Pochop kept the Bravettes alive.
Both teams went back and forth on the next rally, but Lily Knull’s volley over the net landed out of bounds, putting an end to a hard-fought set.
Jozy Piper led the black and blue with 13 kills, five of which came off blocks. The late surge by the Bravettes in the third set wasn’t something her team was unfamiliar with.
“We’ve been in situations probably worse than that and pulled through,” Piper said. "We really just came together as a team."
Elly Piper had 11 kills of her own and three blocks. Jaya Wachholtz had nine and a service ace while Kennedy Warneke had seven and a block.
Execution was a big key for coach Zach Weber’s Bluejays in the Mid-State final. On Tuesday, although they struggled with it at times, he understood that this Battle Creek team was always making them work for their points.
“I can’t be super upset with our execution because Battle Creek was really earning it. They were giving us hard serves where we were kind of scrambling and fighting for our lives a little bit at times,” Weber said. “So give them a ton of credit. That’s a great team.”
Pierce opened up the first set up 19-9, but two errors and a foul gave Battle Creek life. The teams traded blows until the Bravettes made it 22-19. Elly Piper and Addi Taake traded kills, but three straight kills by Jozy Piper put it in the books.
The mistakes were something that would often hurt the Bluejays and keep them from going on longer runs. For Weber, the key to overcoming them started with serve receive.
“When they were going on runs, I thought we did an excellent job of taking the tempo back and getting ourselves in two or three passes and really giving Brielle (Unseld) some opportunities to read,” he said. “She did a good job of getting those reads and mixing it up tonight.”
Unseld led Pierce with 26 set assists to go with two kills. Morgan Moeller had three set assists of her own.
In the second set, the Bluejays held a 18-10 advantage, but a net violation, an error by Warneke and a kill by Knull sparked a run that made it 24-18, but Wachholtz put any hopes of a comeback to rest with a kill that went off of Bravettes players and out of bounds.
Knull led Battle Creek with six kills. Mya Zohner had four and a service ace while Reagan Brummels had three kills.
Paytyn Taake and Knull were two of five seniors — with the others being Taylor Eastland, Kenna Pochop and Kaitlin Pochop — to play their final game in a Battle Creek uniform. Regardless of the role that each of them had, coach Cody Wintz was honored to have them wear the purple and gold.
“It’s disappointing to see it end like that for them and to see their heart break,” he said. “But I’m proud that they were a part of our program.”
As a whole, the team had a lot to be proud of. Battle Creek ends its season with a final record of 23-9. The Fightin’ River took on tougher opponents compared with last year’s schedule. Even then, the team accomplished quite a bit.
“To have that kind of record, to win the Mid-State season championship, second in the tournament and lose to a solid team like (Pierce),” Wintz said, "we have nothing to be ashamed of and I’m very proud of them.”
Meanwhile, Pierce will face an opponent to be determined on Saturday in the district finals, with the winner advancing to the state tournament.
“We’re really putting it together right now,” Weber said. “So I feel confident going into Saturday.”
Pierce defeats Battle Creek 25-20, 25-18, 25-21
PIERCE (26-5): Kennedy Warneke 7k; Jozy Piper 13k, 5b; Maggie Painter 5k, 2b; Jaya Wachholtz 9k; Elly Piper 11k 3b; Brielle Unseld 26s, 2k, 1b; Larissa Meier 2a; Morgan Moeller 3s, 1a.
BATTLE CREEK (23-9): Lily Knull 6k, 2b; Reagan Brummels 3k; Addi Taake 3k, 1a, 1b; Mya Zohner 4k, 1a; Kenna Pochop 3k, 2a, 1b; Paytyn Taake 1s; Kaitlyn Pochop 1s.