By Jason Wesseldyk
PARCHMENT—In its Division 2 regional final against Edwardsburg on Thursday, Nov. 9, the Otsego volleyball team utilized a diversified offensive attack.
Three Bulldogs racked up at least 10 kills, led by a team-best 13 from Brooke Smalldon.
Unfortunately for Otsego and its followers, that wasn’t quite enough as the Bulldogs suffered the four-set loss by scores of 25-22, 25-22, 23-25, 25-20.
Despite the loss, second-year Otsego coach Kelsey Swoboda—a former standout for Otsego during her high school days—had nothing but praise for her players.
“The fight the girls had tonight is the same fight they have shown me all season and is what has made this such a special group,” she said “No matter what the score was or what may not be going their way, they never backed down and never stopped fighting.
“These girls had a rare mindset that you don’t often get all at one time on a team. They loved to compete for each other and never backed down from a challenge.”
Swoboda said she looked forward to her time with the team each day. And that’s what made the loss to the Eddies so difficult.
“It’s a bummer to see it come to an end, for sure,” she said. “This is a group that didn’t want their season to end and were excited to get back in the gym every day and work to get better. I’m very proud of the accomplishments this team made this season.”
Those accomplishments included a district championship and, before that, a share of Wolverine Conference title.
Two other teams also finished league play at 7-1 to earn a share of the league crown. Edwardsburg was one of those teams … and they were the team that gave the Bulldogs their only loss in conference play.
“Edwardsburg is a tough team for sure,” Swoboda said. “They have some big-time attackers. I thought our defense responded well and followed our game plan. In the end, our offense didn’t put up the numbers for us and that’s where we fell short.”
The first set went back and forth, with Edwardsburg getting a kill from Ella Laskowski to go up one set to none.
The Eddies carried momentum into the second set, taking leads of 9-2 and 16-7.
But back came Otsego, which reeled off a string of seven straight points—including three kills from Smalldon—to pull to within a point at 24-22.
The Bulldogs would get no closer, though, as a kill from Drew Glaser gave the Eddies a 2-0 lead.
“Getting those two sets was huge,” Edwardsburg coach Sarah Strefling said. “It allowed us to gain the energy.”
Otsego still had plenty of energy of its own in spite of the big hole it found itself facing.
With neither team leading by more than three points throughout the third set, the Bulldogs trailed at 17-15. Then, after getting a sideout, Aly Aldrich served up five more points to give Otsego the 21-17 lead.
The Eddies didn’t go quietly, scoring the next four points to knot the score at 21-21.
And back came Otsego, scoring four of the final six points—including a set-sealing kill by Smalldon—to get back into the match at 2-1.
The fourth set saw Otsego take a quick 5-2 lead before weathering an attack from Edwardsburg to eventually take a 19-18 lead. Then, after the Eddies went up 20-19, the Bulldogs made it 20-20 on a hitting error by the Eddies.
But Otsego’s hopes of forcing a decisive fifth set were dashed when Edwardsburg scored the final five points to close out the set and the match.
“With the pressure and expectation, I was a little nervous tonight,” Strefling said. “And I also knew Otsego would bring a crowd. We, on the other hand, get a good core fan group, but it’s not like we’re filling the stands. And that’s okay.
“We’ve succeeded like that all season long and I’m just so happy that they’ve performed for themselves.”
In addition to her team-best 13 kills, Smalldon was also second in digs with 15. Aldrich led in digs with 29.
Bella McCamman had 11 kills and nine digs; Olivia Dennis had 10 kills and six blocks; Maddy Littel had 34 assists and nine digs; Jessie Bradford had five kills and four blocks; and Cassie Holland had seven digs and two aces.
Swoboda had special words for the senior trio of Bradford, Dennis and Aldrich.
“My seniors came to play tonight,” she said. “They have been our rocks this season. We can always count on them to lead the charge.
“Jessie had her best game of her career. Olivia is our spark plug. When she gets a kill, our team goes crazy for her, and it makes a statement. She has been our go-to kid this season in times of pressure moments. We can always rely on her to take a courageous swing.
“And Aly is the most level headed leader I have ever coached. She told me before the game that their setter will not get a single kill on her. And she stuck to her word. Her competitive mindset is everything you could ask for in a libero because she never wants to get scored on and will do anything to keep the ball off the floor. This season’s success is a testimony to her leadership on and off the court with her teammates.”