By Jason Wesseldyk
OTSEGO—Elephants are known for having excellent long-term memories.
Apparently, Bulldogs have pretty good memories, too—at least the ones who play volleyball for Otsego.
A year after being upset by archrival Plainwell in the final of a Division 2 district, the Bulldogs of Otsego squared off with the Trojans in another district final on Thursday, Nov. 2. And Otsego made the most of the opportunity.
Controlling the action throughout much of the match, the Bulldogs picked up the 3-0 victory by scores of 25-19, 25-13, 25-23 to claim the district championship.
Otsego coach Kelsey Swoboda—herself a former standout for the Bulldogs before continuing her volleyball and basketball careers at Michigan State University—couldn’t help but smile following the match.
“The girls definitely came hungry,” she said. “What happened last year in the district final was still fresh in our minds. Plus, they took us to four sets during the regular season, so we wanted to come out and make a statement.
“The girls are in go mode right now and they’re really excited to be in the postseason and want to keep it going.”
Brooke Smalldon paced Otsego with 11 kills to go with 15 digs. Aly Aldrich had team highs of 20 digs and five aces, with Maddy Littel going for 28 assists.
Bella McCamman (nine kills and 18 digs), Olivia Dennis (five kills and six blocks), Cassie Holland (10 digs) and Tessa Prough (five kills) also shined for the Bulldogs.
“These girls work so well together,” Swoboda said. “They love to compete, they love to compete together and they get really excited about supporting each other. So, it’s just that culture that you always hope and wish for. They’ve really found a way to gel and that shows out on the court.”
Plainwell coach Don Hyames knew Otsego—which secured a share of the Wolverine Conference championship—was a tough challenge for his team.
“Otsego is really solid offensively and play great defense,” he said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t have our best game. We changed our defense slightly to play to their tendencies from the first match and wanted to see about keeping the ball away from their libero and making the other defenders step up.
“We played scrappy to give ourselves a chance in several of the games, but just came up short.”
Anna Overway led Plainwell with eight kills, followed closely by Sophie Munch with seven. Munch also had a team-topping 17 digs, with Jordyn Erdody and Lexi Poel finishing with 10 each.
Autum Gravelyn had 19 assists for the Trojans.
Otsego was scheduled to play Parma Western on Tuesday, Nov. 7, in a regional semifinal. The winner of that match will play either Edwardsburg or Stevensville-Lakeshore for the regional championship at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 9, in Parchment.
“Our goal is to stay hungry and keep going as long as we can,” Swoboda said. “That’s the conversation we’ve had all season and nothing changes now. We just want to stay hungry and keep getting better. Keep focusing on the process and not the outcome. Because when we focus on the process, we usually get the outcome we want.”
In the district semifinals, Otsego beat Allegan 3-0 (25-5, 25-12, 25-7), while Plainwell bested Battle Creek Pennfield 3-0.
Dennis paced Otsego with 11 kills, with McCamman going for eight. McCamman also led with 14 digs.
Jessie Bradford and Prough had seven kills each, with Prough also collecting four blocks. Littel had 34 assists.
For Plainwell in the win over Pennfield, Munch had 13 kills and 19 digs, with Gravelyn going for 25 assists.
“I thought the key for us was playing as a unit and getting contributions from everyone,” Hyames said. “We passed well and were able to run a quicker tempo which really paid off for our outside hitters as they both recorded double digits in kills.”