MATTAWAN — St. Joseph played itself into a few early holes in Monday’s Division 1 district-opening volleyball match against Portage Northern.
The Bears fell behind early in all three sets of a 28-26, 25-13, 25-16 sweep to the Huskies, and needed comeback efforts to give themselves a chance.
Portage Northern advances to Wednesday’s 7 p.m. district semifinal against Kalamazoo Central, which drew a first-round bye.
On the other side of the bracket, Lakeshore also drew a bye. The Lancers will play in the 5:30 p.m. semifinal against Division 1 No. 3-rated Mattawan. The Wildcats dispatched of Portage Central, 25-20, 27-25, 25-15, in Monday’s first district opener.
St. Joseph almost capped off an impressive first set comeback. After trailing 10-0, the Bears (15-26-4) battled back and nearly took the set, but the Huskies (22-15-2) had just enough to hang on.
“Those are tough games to lose when you battle,” St. Joseph coach Heather Briney-Kelm said. “We definitely had our chances, no two ways about that. I personally think that, for us to come back from an 0-10 (deficit), was a great uplifting moment for us. It gave us that chance to bring us a win.
“But, it’s volleyball — it’s up and down, up and down.”
Karly Klaer led the Bears first-set comeback, as she had three kills, three digs and a block in the set. She finished with a team-high eight kills on the night, adding seven assists, six digs, a block and an ace.
Klaer and senior setter Ainsley Hegg were a common duo all night. Hegg tallied eight assists to go with five digs, four blocks, four kills and an ace.
In set two, the Bears again fell behind, this time by an 11-4 margin.
St. Joseph would get as close as 11-9 after five straight points, but the Huskies went on a five-point scoring run of their own to retake control.
Makayla Smith led Northern’s charge with two kills, an ace and a block in the stretch. She ended with a game-high 17 kills, adding three blocks as well.
The third set was closer for the beginning, as the Bears and Huskies traded points en route to an 11-10 Northern lead before the Huskies again went on a scoring streak, scoring eight of the next 10 to go up 19-12.
The Huskies are a familiar foe for the Bears, as the teams met once in the regular season for conference play, a 3-0 Portage Northern victory on Oct. 2.
“It was very similar,” she said of the match. “I definitely was expecting a close match today. I have a lot of respect for Portage Northern.”
Briney-Kelm added that she expects the Bears to come back strong next season, as the team loses only three seniors in Hegg, Avery Burnette and Aubrey White-Day.
“We’ve been playing a lot of young kids,” she said. “It’s a very positive, hard-working and energetic group of young kids. I told them they can be sad, but also to be happy about what the future of St. Joe volleyball looks like.
“When you look at it, we’ve got a lot of kids coming back next year that are willing to work hard. I think we’ve got some great things in place.”
Portage Northern d. St. Joseph 28-26, 25-13, 25-16
St. Joseph — Morgan Champion 7 kills, 4 digs, 1 block; Olivia Blackmond 5 digs, 4 aces; Courtney Koch 2 digs, 2 blocks, 1 assist; Ainsley Hegg 8 assists, 5 digs, 4 kills, 4 blocks, 1 ace; Taylor Valdes 6 digs, 5 kills, 1 block; Symone King 3 blocks, 1 kill; Karly Klaer 8 kills, 7 assists, 6 digs, 1 block, 1 ace.
Portage Northern — Isabela Griwatsch 1 kill, 1 dig, 1 block; Lyse Bates 3 digs, 2 kills; Kennedy Pilger 2 kills, 1 assist, 1 block; Alia Mastromatteo 15 assists, 5 kills, 3 digs, 2 aces; Anna Griffioen 1 kill, 1 dig, 1 assist, 1 ace; Makayla Smith 17 kills, 3 blocks; Fatimata Deme 5 blocks; Gabi Ford 6 assists, 3 digs, 1 kill; Kaia Dolph 7 digs; Hannah Calloway 5 kills, 3 blocks, 1 assist; Amaya Smith 1 block.