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Bedford reaches state volleyball quarterfinals

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    Bedford players celebrate after winning a point during a Michigan Class A regional volleyball final against Livonia Churchill at Monroe High School.

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    Bedford's Joella Griner (11) and Mackenzie Fuleky defend against Livonia Churchill's Annabelle Dunn.

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    Victorious Bedford players celebrate after winning a Michigan Class A high school regional volleyball final against Livonia Churchill at Monroe High School.

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    Bedford's Katrina Reynolds hits the ball during Thursday's regional final against Livonia Churchill.

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    Bedford's Levi Lennard, lower right, looks up as teammate Breeanna Long tries get the ball.

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    Bedford's Breeanna Long serves during Thursday's match with Livonia Churchill. Bedford won in four games to advance to the Michigan state quarterfinals.

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    Bedford's Levi Lennard sets the ball during Thursday's regional final.

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    Bedford's Katrina Reynolds, left, and Breeanna Long go for the ball.

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    Bedford players celebrate their regional championship.

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    Bedford's Taylor Weirich reaches back for the ball during Thursday's regional championship match against Livonia Churchill.

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    Bedford's Levi Lennard reaches up to hit the ball.

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    Bedford's Paige Anstine hits the ball during a Michigan Class A high school regional volleyball final against Livonia Churchill. Bedford won in 4 games to advance to the state tournament.

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    Bedford's Breeanna Long returns a Livonia Churchill serve.

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    Bedford players celebrate after winning a regional championship.

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MONROE — Bedford slipped up late in the second set, but the Kicking Mules regrouped impressively to take a 25-18, 25-27, 25-16, 25-14 victory against Livonia Churchill in a Michigan Class A regional volleyball final played Thursday at Monroe High School.

Senior Heidi Fausze led the Mules’ attack with 21 kills, sophomore Alyssa Griner had 19 kills, and senior Mackenzie Fuleky added 14 for Bedford (62-6-2).

Kicking Mules junior setter Levi Lennard contributed 52 assists and 23 digs, and junior libero Breeanna Long led Bedford in digs with 30.

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Bedford players celebrate after winning a point during a Michigan Class A regional volleyball final against Livonia Churchill at Monroe High School.

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“We’ve kind of been having that pattern throughout the season, where we start strong, go into a lull, and then come back,” Fausze said. “It’s just mental. We can get over it. This could’ve been our last match of the season, so I think that motivated us a little more. We don’t want the season to end yet.

“We started being more aggressive, and we started getting our middles more active. That helped a lot.”

The Mules advance to Tuesday's Class A state quarterfinal at Ann Arbor Huron, where they will face top-ranked, defending state champion Novi.

VIDEO: Bedford takes regional championship

This is the 24th time Bedford has advanced as far as a state quarterfinal under Michigan and national hall-of-fame coach Jodi Manore, who has guided the team to three state championships.

Bedford pulled away in the first set to win with little drama, and appeared to be heading on a similar path in the second before things broke down for the Mules against the Chargers’ defensive-oriented scheme.

Ahead 23-18, Lennard served into the net, Churchill’s Anabelle Dunn followed with back-to-back points off of blocks, and Bedford made two consecutive unforced errors to allow the Chargers to tie the set at 23.

The Kicking Mules regrouped with a block point from Fuleky to retake the lead, but eventually dropped the set.

“Churchill was playing all-out defense,” Manore said of the second set. “It was going to be somebody’s last match of the year, and when you get to that point you don’t think about anything. You just play. That’s what happened. They played defense, and we had 11 hitting errors in that second set.

“We were the better team, but that doesn’t always win right now [in tournament]. We learned a lesson from that.”

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Bedford players celebrate after winning a regional championship.

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As if flipping a switch, Bedford was able to put that failure aside mentally, regained the momentum early in the third, and produced a consistent mix of in-system offense and solid defense in the final two sets to defeat Churchill (34-17-1) with little stress.

Key in the turnaround was the play of Fuleky, who emerged to produce eight of her kills in the pivotal third set.

“It was really nice to shut them down there [in third set],” Fuleky said. “Not to just beat them, but badly. We were really playing together until [late] in the second set. “But then we bonded back together and did well after that. Our defense really picked up, and our serve-receive was on point.”

The Chargers still were within 13-11 in the fourth, until Bedford hit stride in its all-around game and closed the match on a 12-3 run.

“Mackenzie Fuleky did a great job in the middle,” Manore said. “She just got hot and did it. Heidi and Alyssa also played well.”

Sarah Dunn topped Churchill with 15 kills, and Anabelle Dunn added 13 for the Chargers in defeat.

Contact Steve Junga at sjunga@theblade.com419-724-6461, or on Twitter @JungaBlade.

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