BATTLE CREEK — On Thursday in Bedford's Class A state semifinal showdown with Grand Haven, the Mules had to shut down big-hitter Abby Cole.
Bedford faced another tall task on Saturday in their state championship game against No. 3 Macomb Dakota. This time, the Mules would have to try and slow down 6-foot-1 junior hitter Carli Snyder, who has already committed to play volleyball at the University of Florida.
Snyder single-handedly led the Cougars past the Mules in three straight sets (25-22, 25-21, 26-24) by rattling off 31 of her team's 50 kills on the night. She also led her squad to the program's first-ever state title.
"She's pretty darn good. I wish she was a senior," Bedford coach Jodi Manore said with a laugh. "Last night we came up with some unbelievable digs. We just missed today. We were able to block Abby pretty well. But today, we didn't get too many on [Snyder]. She was able to get up and over the top of us."
Snyder played a large role in all three of the sets played on Saturday night, yet Bedford hung tight with Macomb Dakota in every frame. As a team, the Mules defense got their hands on 52 digs, but that wasn't enough.
"Our strength has been that we've had a nice compliment of players, great team chemistry and we could count on somebody different in every match.
"Unfortunately, that wasn't good enough tonight," Manore said. "We only lost by 3-4 points each game. We were so close. It was a lot of the little things that hurt us most."
Added sophomore Nicole Rightnowar: "It was really hard to adjust to her because she was so good. It was really hard to block her. She is a phenomenal hitter. But I feel like we can take a lot from what we saw tonight and we can use it to get better."
Rightnowar had 11 kills, three digs, and two blocks in the loss, while classmate Kayla Gwozdz piled up a team-high 14 kills. MacKenzie Andrews dished out 37 assists within the Mule offense. She also had five digs on the night.
Bedford's defense was led by Taylor Foster, who collected 18 digs on the night alongside Lexie Curtis, who added 10.
"We've had our ups and downs this season. We've lost to a few teams that probably thought, 'what's Bedford doing there?’", Manore said. "We don't have any great, big player like what we've went up against these past couple of days. We don't get to practice against that day in and day out. We just had to do what we could."
After battling back and forth with Macomb in the first frame, Snyder ended it with an exclamation point. Her back-to-back kills ended the opening set, giving them a 25-23 victory.
In the second, Macomb ran out to a 7-4 lead before Manore and Bedford attempted to slow them down with an early timeout.
The Mules strategy worked, but not for long.
Bedford hung close with the Cougars, tying the match up at 20 points apiece. But that's when Macomb head coach Tracie Ferguson went back to her workhorse in Snyder, whose block and pair of kills put the Cougars on top 2-0.
"She regrouped, but it was the other kids that beat us," Manore said.
"I'll give her the 30 kills that she had against us, but there were a couple other girls who also had quite a few, and that's what hurt us most."
The Mules hung on as long as they could in the third and eventual final set, clinging to a 24-24 tie while hoping to force a fourth game.
However, one more kill by Snyder, followed by final point by the Cougars, ended Bedford's magical season.
"I just told these girls that I was really, really proud of them. Only one Class A team was better than us this year. I'm willing to bet that if you went back and asked a lot of the teams we played this year if we'd be Class A runners-up, I don't think too many of them would have picked us," said Manore.
"We fell short once we got here, but we beat two really good teams to get to this point. We just ran into a team with not only one of the best that we've seen all year, but I think her supporting cast really stepped up and played a lot better than they did [in the semifinals]."
Added Rightnowar: "Tonight was really hard, especially because it was in three games. We didn't want this season to end. We love our seniors a lot, and they will be missed a lot," she said. "We really wanted this one. We wanted to win the state title this year."