Mendon volleyball repeats as state champion

Lady Hornets hold off Comets

BATTLE CREEK — Volleyball is perhaps the most difficult sport to repeat in as a state champion.
Several factors go into building a successful season and ending it by raising the title trophy at Battle Creek’s Kellogg Arena.
Second-year Mendon head coach Heather Bowers is making the process look easy. But the former Lady Hornets and Huntington College playing standout is the first to admit it’s not as easy as it appears.
No. 1-ranked Mendon handled the challenge and held off yet another ranked team on its way to capturing its second consecutive Division 4 state title Saturday with a four-set win over Leland 25-17, 25-19, 27-29, 25-14 at Kellogg Arena.
It’s the fifth state volleyball title for the school and 24th overall state championship won by a Mendon sports team.
Mendon eliminated No. 3 Battle Creek St. Philip in the regional finals, No. 2 Camden-Frontier in the quarterfinals, No. 4 Southfield Christian in the semifinal round and No. 5 Leland in the championship.
The Lady Hornets never dropped a set in postseason play until its match with Camden-Frontier and ended the final week losing just two sets, one each to Southfield Christian and Leland.
Perhaps no one, except Bowers and her team itself, believed Mendon could repeat as state champions, especially after the graduation loss of five key seniors, including all-state outside hitter Hayley Kramer along with all-state setter Aubrey Crotser.
But Mendon, a team with four seniors this season, proved its critics wrong.
Opponents, just like Leland, found it difficult, if not impossible, all season to stop Mendon’s returning first-team all-state junior outside hitter Anna Smith.
Smith, who recently gave her verbal commitment to play Division I volleyball at the College of Charleston, was easily the best player on the floor Saturday in her match with 22 kills, four aces, 13 digs and three blocks.
“We knew we had to play harder and not take Leland as lightly as we did Camden-Frontier and Southfield Christian because they wanted revenge on us. We pushed harder today and won this for the seniors. I have to know all my spots because I am a bit shorter than some hitters,” said Anna Smith, who stated her college choice was based on the atmosphere, culture and the coaching staff at Charleston.
“They leave it up to you to be as good as you want to be while encouraging you to do that. I liked how beautiful the campus is too,” Anna Smith said.
The 5-8 Heitkamp, who took last season off from the sport, added 12 kills, one assist, an ace, one block and two digs for Mendon.
“It was really special being able to play this year with Anna and the rest of these girls. I came in today feeling like it was going to be my best game and I left it out there on the floor,” Heitkamp said.
The 5-9 Hoffman, a two-year starter, contributed six kills, one dig, three aces and six blocks.
“Leland has always had real strong hitters so we knew we had to defend our back row. You have to put up a great block to run your offense and we did today,” Hoffman said.
Freshman outside hitter Alexis Ames added four kills and three digs. Ryley Mullin added three kills and a pair of blocks.
Russell, formerly a back-row specialist until this season, ran Mendon’s offensive attack to near perfection with 41 assists to go with two blocks and eight digs.

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