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Bulldogs, Pioneers battle to five in district semifinal

There’s just something about playing in the postseason that brings out the best in teams, and that was the case for the Yale Bulldogs as they battled for five sets against Croswell-Lexington in the MHSAA Division 2, District 60 semifinal.

“We said, ‘Step up, it’s districts.’ We’ve had moments all season when we’ve seen our potential, and tonight was definitely a night when everyone played their best,” Yale head coach Kerry Dykstra said.

Although the Bulldogs' season came to a close in the Almont High School gym last night, they fought until the Pioneers won 25-23, 25-21, 18-25, 20-25, 15-11.

The Pioneers celebrate after a point against Yale in the district semifinal.

“It was good to come out with a win because I think there’s more in us than what we played today. I think Yale is very underrated,” Cros-Lex head coach Ryan Wilson said. “I know their league season didn’t go as well as they would’ve liked, but I know we were not taking them for granted. We game-planned for them as much as we did for anybody else all year. They put it to us and made it a game.”

That was especially true in the fourth set. The Pioneers had secured a 2-0 lead, but Yale picked up momentum after winning the third. The Bulldogs then went on a 6-1 run to start the fourth, leaving no doubt the match would be sent to five.

And even in the fifth, the two teams fought for every point. The set was tied 7-7 midway through, but eventually, the Pioneers pulled away to prolong their season with a 15-11 victory.

“That’s all you want, the opportunity to keep playing,” Wilson said. “When you win, it's amazing, but there’s only one team who’s not going to lose their last game, and whenever that time comes, you want to know you played your best.”

Wilson said senior leadership was key in the Pioneers’ victory with libero Elara Rankin and hitters Kobi Stribling and Kylee Stribling.

“Elara played amazing. She was the best player on the floor on both sides…She was everything you need from your libero…so consistent and just selling out for every single play,” Wilson said. “I thought Kobi had a nice game, she really stepped up offensively and had a lot of energy and had some really nice serving. And they were keying on Kylee and Kylee didn't quit…She got some big kills in the fifth set, I think she had three or four kills in a game to 15, and that’s a huge number.”

Rankin said she agreed and is grateful for another chance to play another match.

“The energy my team brought out in the fifth set was outstanding and it was exactly what we needed to do,” Rankin said. “I think we pushed really hard even though our communication wasn’t the best, and winning that meant a lot. I was really happy that we pushed through and did it, and didn’t go home the first night.”

As for the Bulldogs, sophomore Alyssa Barr led the team with 11 kills, junior Ava Richards added seven, and senior Gracie Ostrander had six. Senior Rylie Ferguson proved key at the net with five kills and four blocks, and the defensive duo of juniors Grace Keskes and Shauna Dannhausen combined for 33 digs. Senior setter Abbi Dykstra had 29 assists.

Seniors Rylie Ferguson and Gracie Ostrander block the ball during the district semifinal against Cros-Lex.

“With Rylie and Alyssa as our middle blockers, they definitely alter teams' shots. Rylie as a senior really stepped up this year and she was all over the place tonight. That’s awesome to see,” Kerry Dykstra said. “Shauna and Grace really held down the fort on serve receive. We’ve asked them the whole season to be a two-person serve receive and that’s what’s allowed us to be more comfortable in our offense.”

“I feel like our team really hadn’t been put together all year. We’re all such great athletes and it’s been kind of hard to put it together," Ferguson said. "But I feel like last night we put it together really well and everyone played so well to the best of their ability."

The Pioneers will play in tonight’s District 60 Championship against North Branch at 6 p.m. Buy tickets.

“We're definitely going to have to make different adjustments and step it up even more than we did tonight,” Rankin said. “I still think we can do it and give them a tough game.”


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