Onaway, Pellston meet in regional semis for third straight year

ST. IGNACE-So nice to see you again.

For the third consecutive season, the Onaway and Pellston volleyball teams will meet each other in a Class D regional semifinal.

The Cardinals topped the Hornets in four games last year on the way to an appearance in the state semifinals.

Onaway got the better of Pellston again this season, beating the Hornets en route to finishing an undefeated season in Ski Valley Conference play. But Onaway coach Steve Watson knows Pellston always plays tough and isn’t looking past the Hornets, especially since the Cardinals got such a challenge in the district final.

“We did it last year, the same scenario at the same place and we’ve met them in regionals many times so it’s pretty familiar for both teams,” Watson said. “Friday night was an awfully tough match and the girls know they can’t let their guard down and relax.”

After a tough four-set win over Rogers City on Friday for the district title, the Cardinals could need an even bigger performance tonight after senior Mariah Ehrke went down with an injury near the end of the match.

Ehrke has been kept off the court the last few days and Watson said she’ll likely be a game-time decision. Losing Ehrke would be a big blow to the Cardinals on both ends of the floor as she leads the team with 568 kills and 588 digs.

With Ehrke potentially out of the lineup, Watson will need the rest of his front row, which includes Devin Bristley (315 kills, 456 digs), Lexi Szymoniak (244 kills, 448 digs) and Taylor Ehrke (1,069 assists, 388 digs) to step up.

Pellston took home its seventh straight district trophy last week and despite graduating some talented players, the Hornets still have a squad to be reckoned with. Mackenzie Wright led Pellston with 14 kills in Friday’s win over Harbor Light Christian and Hanah Carter (27 assists), Megan Milbrandt (five aces) and Shaylee Smith (six kills, two blocks) added to a stellar all-around effort.

No matter the circumstances, Onaway is focused on playing a sound defensive game. The Cardinals have been the smallest team on the court in many of their matches this season, but playing solid defense has led them a long way.

“No matter what we do offensively, that’s going to be our bread and butter,” Watson said. “When you play really good teams, you need to be strong defensively. Our only chance is to wear teams out.”

The winner of tonight’s game will face either Brimley or Engadine in the regional final on Thursday.

James Andersen can be reached via email at sports@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5694. Follow James on Twitter @ja_alpenanews.