2016-10-27 / Sports

County teams ready for tricks, treats in district tournaments

By Jay Bushen
Of The Enterprise staff


THE COMETS won the Leland Invitational on Saturday, capping a 6-0 day with a three-set win over Benzie Central in the finals (25-19, 22-25, 15-7). The No. 3 Comets finished the regular season with a 36-10-4 record. 
Courtesy: Laurie Glass THE COMETS won the Leland Invitational on Saturday, capping a 6-0 day with a three-set win over Benzie Central in the finals (25-19, 22-25, 15-7). The No. 3 Comets finished the regular season with a 36-10-4 record. Courtesy: Laurie Glass It’s only fitting that coach Laurie Glass and the defending Class D state champions of Leland will make their postseason debut on Halloween.

Last year, the Comets struck fear into playoff opponents with devastating swings and seemingly supernatural defensive play before sweeping Battle Creek St. Philip in the state finals. Leland was scary good in all nine postseason matchups, taking 24 of 25 sets.

The Comets will look to recreate the winning formula this year, starting in the District 118 tournament Monday.

Leland will welcome an up-and-coming Suttons Bay squad led by first-year coach Kelly Mokanyk.

“I don’t look any further than that first game,” Glass said. “Suttons Bay is a worthy opponent and clearly made it known that they are a competitive team with two great outside hitters.

“Kelly has done a spectacular job with that program and we are doing nothing but preparing for that match.”

Leland swept Suttons Bay when the teams first met on Oct. 11, but a rematch in Saturday’s Leland Invitational was more competitive.

The reigning state champs got the win in three sets (25-21, 23-25, 15-5) and their third tournament victory of the fall campaign, but the Lady Norse got a bit of a confidence boost.

“It was kind of ‘breaking the curse’ for us in a way,” Mokanyk said of the second set. “It was an exciting moment and it let our girls know they’re not untouchable. If we play competitively, we might be able to win.”

The winner of Monday’s match will take on another county opponent, Northport, in the semifinals.

Glen Lake, meanwhile, is gearing up for a Halloween matchup at Mancelona in the District 91 tournament.

Here’s what to expect from all four Leelanau County clubs in districts:

GLEN LAKE (13-21-1, 3-5 NWC)

Coach Liz Moeggenberg will lean on a pair of juniors as the Lady Lakers look to put an up-and-down regular season in the rear-view mirror.

Moeggenberg said the play of outside hitter Mallory Lund and setter Hanna VanDuzen will be key.

“How they go is how our team goes,” Moeggenberg said.

The team will need to minimize miscues at the service line and avoid passive play at the net to find postseason success, which has eluded the program for years.

According to district tournament archives on the MHSAA website, which date back to 2010, the team has lost 18 of its last 19 postseason sets.

The lone set victory came in 2015, however, in a 3-1 loss to Grand Traverse Academy.

“We just need to keep working hard and keep our confidence level up and we’ll be all right,” Moeggenberg said.

The Lady Lakers went 1-5-1 last week after a 1-1 trip to Manistee, an 0-3-1 showing in the Leland tournament and a five-set home loss to Harbor Springs on Tuesday.

LELAND (36-10-4, 7-1 NWC)

High-flying sophomore outside hitter Allie Martin will lead the way for a battle-tested Leland bunch that has earned every bit of its No. 3 spot in the latest MIVCA ranks.

The Comets proved themselves against top-notch competition early in the regular season, posting a number of impressive victories over much bigger schools, and followed it up with three tournament victories and a second-place finish in the Northwest Conference standings. That said, the team enters the district tournament with a big target on its back.

“Everybody plays their best match against us,” Glass said. “That’s good in the long run, but we’re super young. I could have four sophomores on the floor in any given match and that lends itself to inconsistency at times.”

But few sophomores can orchestrate an offense like setter Ella Siddall.

Siddall and Martin were instrumental in the team’s championship run last year, as were junior outside hitter Rowan Wilson and senior libero Julie Bardenhagen.

“Julie Bardenhagen has been a big leader for us this year both on and off the court,” Glass said. “She’s very vocal and I’m looking to her to take on that role. Rowan also is providing a lot of leadership for us right now, which is good. She’s getting ready to step into that ‘only senior role’ next year.”

Glass said the team has room for improvement at the service line after seeing less-than-stellar play in that department late in the regular season.

The Comets won eight straight games last week after a 2-0 showing in a tri meet against Charlevoix and McBain NMC and the 6-0 run on Saturday. The team went 1-2 in Traverse City Central’s ABCD quad on Monday, however, beating Central and losing to Kingsley and St. Francis.

SUTTONS BAY (19-9-6, 4-4 NWC)

Don’t sleep on the Lady Norse.

Senior outside hitters Taylor Devol and Kyra Vezina have formed a formidable one-two punch for a team that spent most of the season with a top-10 spot in the MIVCA rankings.

Though early season success didn’t translate to a winning record in league play, Mokanyk’s Lady Norse have been a tough team to beat.

“It’s 100 percent mental with my team,” Mokanyk said. “We always play our best game when we play teams we don’t know very well, but with familiar teams, we’re our own worst enemy. We’re really working on covering tips and serve receive, that’s typically our weaker area, but I have in my opinion the best hitters around. We just need to get the ball to them and let them to what they do well.”

The team is still inexperienced, however, and recent adjustments to the roster have placed a pair of freshmen, libero Laura Hursey and setter Grace Periard, into the starting lineup.

Their play will be key as the team tries to dethrone Leland Monday.

The team beat visiting Forest Area and Traverse City Christian at home last Thursday before an 0-2-2 run in the Leland Invitational and a 2-0 showing in a tri meet at Johannesburg- Lewiston.

NORTHPORT (9-16-6, 1-3 Cherryland)

The Lady Wildcats will enter their second-round matchup on Wednesday with more regular season wins than they’ve had in a long time.

Second-year coach Teresa Szur said Northport will enter today’s Cherryland Conference tri meet with a chance to hit the 10-win plateau for the first time in “seven or eight years.”

“We had officials come up and tell us they can’t believe how much better the program has gotten,” she said after a tri meet in Manistee on Tuesday. “The kids are working hard.”

Needless to say, Northport continues to make strides under Szur’s tutelage.

The Lady Wildcats will have their hands full against Leland or Suttons Bay, but Szur isn’t about to measure the team’s success by the outcome of one game — especially considering the team tripled its 2015 win total.

“If we could triple it next year, we’ll have 27,” she said with a laugh. “That’d be fantastic. Something to shoot for, right?”

Szur said she will look to seniors Emily Alflen, Manmeet Dhami and Haley Tarsa to set the tone for Northport in the district tournament.

“If we come and play consistently, I think we can make it a match,” she said.

The team went 0-4 in Leland on Saturday, but notched win No. 9 against Manistee in Tuesday’s tri meet.

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