BATTLE CREEK, Mich. — It’s the third straight season that the Bedford volleyball team and coach Jodi Manore have made it to the Class A final four at Kellogg Arena.
In 2010, the Kicking Mules were downed by Farmington Hills Mercy in the semifinals and last season, they were tripped up by Rockford in the same round.
This time around, Manore and her squad made a state title their goal, not just a state final appearance. The Mules were able to get one step closer to that goal Friday with a 3-1 (25-20, 25-13, 18-25, 25-23) victory over No. 8-ranked Grand Haven.
"Two years ago our goal was to get to state. I think last year, we wanted to go further, but we were just happy we were here," Manore said. "This year, I told the girls that just being here wasn't enough anymore. We've been here twice, now we need to win it. That is our goal."
Bedford senior Taylor Foster paced the Mules offense with 13 kills while sophomore Kayla Gwozdz tallied 12. Senior libero Ellen Hays — who will play at the University of Toledo next season — made 21 digs while sophomore Nicole Rightnowar finished with nine kills, nine digs, and three solo blocks.
With the win, Bedford advances to the Class A final, marking their first title game since 2005. The match is at 2 p.m. against Macomb Dakota, which defeated Northville 25-21, 26-24, 25-13 in the second semifinal.
Bedford came out of the gate and proved they belonged on the big stage once again by taking an early 7-2 lead. The Buccaneers battled right back to tie the game up at 11. The Mules (65-12-3) eventually snuck away with a 23-18 edge and took a one game lead on Grand Haven (46-17-1) after big kills by Rightnowar and Foster.
Bedford once again had the upperhand in the second game, using an early 9-3 lead to force another Grand Haven timeout.
The Mules kept their distance from the Bucs thanks to a six point rally that gave them a 21-10 lead. Bedford eventually put Grand Haven in a two-game hole after a 25-13 victory.
They couldn't hold the Buccaneers down forever.
Grand Haven's attack flexed its muscle early and often in the third game. Leading the Buccaneers offense was 6-foot-5 senior Abby Cole, who single-handedly led Grand Haven to their lone win of the night, a 25-13 victory in the third frame.
"She's a great player, but I don't know that we tried to avoid her. We knew going in that if we could keep her in the back row, unfortunately, she had to serve when she was back there," she said with a laugh. "When it got to that point, we knew we had her where we wanted her. We just wanted to get the ball back and do something with it."
Grand Haven rattled off 48 kills for the night. Cole was responsible for just shy of half, swatting a game-high 20 kills.
"We figured out that when they were in trouble, they were going to go to Abby, and I would too," Manore said. "We were absolutely trying to make others beat her, instead of her. She's pretty darn good."
The Mules quickly regained their composure in the fourth frame thanks to back-to-back aces from Rightnowar that gave Bedford a 7-3 edge.
The Mules found themselves tied at 13 but they strung together yet another rally, increasing their lead to five before forcing Grand Haven's head coach Aaron Smaka to call a timeout late in the game.
"It was a little scary, being in that fourth set. But, we came back when we were down in our quarterfinal match and I think that was a big deal," Manore said. "These girls believe they can, they know they can."
Hays helped Temperance put the finishing touches on the night by serving up seven straight points, giving her team a 20-13 lead.
Grand Haven found a spark late with the Mules sitting on 22 points, but it was too little, too late.
"When you are playing on a stage like this, anything can happen," Manore said. "These kids have a lot of heart, they are a true team, the chemistry has been great and I think that was it. We kind of lost our composure a little bit during that third game."