NAPOLEON -- Liberty Center used a giant rally in the middle of the third set to pull away from Genoa and punch a ticket to Division III volleyball district finals, winning by a score of 25-14, 23-25, 25-13, 25-16 in the nightcap on Wednesday night at Napoleon.
In the night's opening match, Evergreen won a tight contest over Otsego, 20-25, 25-23, 25-20, 25-23 to punch its ticket to the finals. The NWOAL foes will now meet on Saturday at 6 p.m. at Napoleon with a berth at regionals at stake.
After Liberty Center captured the second set and knotted the match at one set apiece, Genoa held an early 7-2 advantage in the third after a kill by Jane Schlievert. After trading points, a Patricia Snider kill stretched the Genoa lead to 10-7. That's when the Tigers (15-9) started to turn the tide.
A Kaitlann Hogrefe kill set up by Lydia Mack started the scoring. A drop shot by Niki Meyer followed by another Hogrefe slam gave Liberty Center an 11-10 advantage and forced a Genoa timeout. Coming out of the break, the Tigers used another Hogrefe kill, a tandem block by Hogrefe and Mack, and then back-to-back aces from Meyer to push the margin to 16-11. Genoa (11-12) couldn't find any momentum, as Mack registered an ace, Hogrefe added two more kills and a block, and Nicole Pickering notched a slam to help give the Tigers the third set and a one set advantage.
"I think my defense stepped up," explained Liberty Center coach Nikki Bostelman. "All year long we've been saying that our serve receive and our defense is the key to us winning games. We have a big front row and if our defense can get their hands up, then their hitters can't put it down."
Senior Brooke Baldwin thought that teamwork was key in sparking the game-changing run.
"I think we just get down on ourselves," said Baldwin. "But once we come together as a team, we just all bring each other up again."
For Genoa, it was a collapse that firmly placed momentum on Liberty Center's side.
"I don't know what happened, that's a good question," said Genoa coach Amanda Craig about the swing in momentum. "We came in to that third set really confident coming off of that win and it got a little challenging. They put the pressure back on us, and unfortunately we couldn't really respond to it. We had a lot of serve receive errors which we didn't have in set number two."
It was a Tiger team that bucked a trend, not starting slow but instead starting the first set on an 8-1 run. A handful of Genoa errors helped aid the quick start, while two Hogrefe slams and a kill by Meyer added to the lead, quickly forcing the Comets to regroup and take a timeout.
"I was very excited," explained Bostelman about her squad's quick start. "I told our guys let's go out there and be the first team to 10 tonight. That was my challenge to them and they accomplished that challenge."
Genoa never fully got going in the first set, and Liberty Center cruised to a quick victory to take a one-set to none lead.
"We came from a further distance and they had a lot of their students here," explained Craig. "We're a young team and it put a little pressure on us. We didn't know how to handle it."
The Tigers served up more of the same in the fourth set, finding themselves in a 9-8 hole before Ashley Bowers tied the game with a kill. After trading points, Bowers scored on a block and a drop shot, while Hogrefe chipped in with a slam to push the Tiger lead to 13-10, forcing a Genoa timeout.
After the timeout, the Tigers were able to keep the Comets at bay, finishing the match on consecutive kills by Meyer and Brooke Baldwin, setting up the match with Evergreen.
Hogrefe paced the Tigers, collecting 17 kills on 34-36 hitting, while adding seven blocks. Mack went a perfect 85-85 setting and dished out 31 assists. Baldwin and Meyer each notched four kills on 12-14 hitting.
"It's really exciting," concluded Baldwin. "Especially being a senior and going this far, it's really exciting being able to move on and play Evergreen."
After dropping a match to the Vikings in four sets earlier this season, Bostelman knows her team has a stiff challenge ahead with a regional trip on the line.
"I like that we finished this game on a run," noted Bostelman. "Evergreen is going to be a challenge. They have big hitters. They have a smart setter. They're just a well-rounded team, so I know it's going to be a challenge, but I think we are up for it."
In the opener, Evergreen earned the four-set victory to punch its ticket to the district finals. The Vikings, ranked 16th in the state, improved to 22-2 on the season. Otsego fell to 16-8.
Liberty Center def. Genoa, 25-12, 26-24, 25-19
Liberty Center (15-9) - Kaitlann Hogrefe 34-36 hitting, 17 kills, 7 blocks; Lydia Mack 85-85 setting, 31 assists; Brooke Baldwin 12-14 hitting, 4 kills; Niki Meyer 12-14 hitting, 4 kills; Alexa Knipp 7-7 serve receive, 9-9 serving; Nicole Pickering 6-8 hitting, 3 kills.
Genoa (11-12) - No stats.
Evergreen def. Otsego, 20-25, 25-23, 25-20, 25-23
Evergreen (22-2) -No stats.
Otsego (16-8) - No stats.