REESE — The Unionville-Sebewaing Area/Reese rivalry stretches well beyond the football gridiron.
And it was in full effect Thursday night.
With both student sections providing all the support either squad would need, the Reese volleyball team scored an emphatic come-from-behind win Thursday in a game that was much more than just your typicall rivalry match.
With the win, Reese turned the tables on the Patriots, who have dominated the Greater Thumb West volleyball landscape in recent years, and captured its first conference title since 2010.
And a packed gym was on hand to witness it.
“Our student section, their student section, they were a really big part of the game, they got everyone going,” said Reese senior Elena Beyerlein. “Our student section definitely helped us, we love having them here supporting us.”
USA has had a stranglehold on the GTW, winning the league the past five years. The last non-Patriots champion was Reese, which won in 2010.
“Getting to coach these girls is a blast,” said Reese coach Gary Thompson. “Yes, that was as fun to coach as it was to watch.”
Thompson is in his fifth year as Reese coach, and has spent the previous four being in USA’s rearview mirror. Entering Thursday, Reese stood at 8-1 in league play while Cass City and USA were each 7-2. Which meant if Reese didn’t win, it would have to split the title with the Patriots and Cass City, which beat Bad Axe Thursday to improve to 8-2.
And for most of Thursday’s match, it looked like the Rockets would have to settle for a share of the GTW championship.
USA won two of the first three sets, and had three service chances to win Set 4 — at scores of 25-24, 26-25 and 27-26. But Reese refused to let the match end, and eventually rallied to a 29-27 win to force a Set 5 tiebreaker. (Click video below to see the final shot. Story continues below video)
“They just never quit, I ask them in practice everyday ‘if you guys don’t quit, we can win some games,'” Thompson said. “They just don’t like to lose, they keep fighting.”
The Rockets held all the momentum heading into Set 5.
“I felt like we lost a lot of serves, I don’t know if they got anxious or what, but they tried to be aggressive and serve it deep to try and force them to make a mistake,” said USA coach Teresa Rose. “But we had way too many missed serves in that fourth game and that hurt us.”
Beyerlein delivered a serve with her Rockets up 14-5 and a few seconds later Faith Conachan delivered a spike that found the floor inbounds on the back-left portion of the Patriots’ court.
“You’re down and then you’re up, you’re down and then you’re up, and then you’re tied,” said Beyerlein of the fourth set. “And you have your teammates to count on, it’s great, it’s the best experience ever.”
When Conachan’s final shot hit the floor, the Reese student section rushed the floor to celebrate with their classmates.
“Our crowd was outstanding tonight, both sides,” Thompson said. “This is the kind of atmosphere you want right here — this is fun — it’s just great volleyball.”
During the match, both student sections frequently performed orchestrated cheers to fire up their teams. Often, the chant of “USA, USA, USA!” drowned out all other sounds in the gymnasium.
“It’s great that we get that kind of support on the road,” Rose said. “It was a good match all the way around, everyone played hard on both sides, it could have gone either way tonight.”
Reese won the first set 25-17 and USA won the next two 25-13 and 25-20.
Madison Thompson led the Rockets with 20 kills while Tori Gunlock and Lexie Felske added 15 and eight respectively. Senior setter Lauren Hecht had a big match, controlling the Reese offense with 40 assists. Beyerlein had a team-high 18 digs while Kelly Ratajczak added nine.
Olivia Williamson and Rylee Zimmer paced USA with 14 and 12 kills respectively. Tiffany Lutz led the Patriots with 17 assists while Sara Reinhardt was right behind with 16. Katie Engelhardt had 30 digs.
Cass City split with both USA and Reese this year, handing the Rockets their only league loss. Reese beat USA 15-25, 27-25, 27-25, 25-17 on Sept. 29 in another marathon match.
“Everyone knows USA and Reese have it in for each other, this game means everything,” Beyerlein said before pointing to the banner in the Reese gymnasium rafters that contains the years of the Rockets’ past league championships.
“We’re putting a 16 right up there, it’s ours, it’s all ours.”