Whitehall’s Hope Rillema (9) spikes the ball while Heather Tacey (6) and Natalie Westhoff of Reed City attempt to block during Thursday’s regional final match. The Vikings’ Alyssa Myers looks on. Whitehall swept the Coyotes for the title.
FREMONT — Considering a defensive tactical change going into Thursday’s regional final match against Reed City, Whitehall volleyball coach Ted Edsall consulted someone who knows a thing or two about volleyball — his son, Jaren, a former honorable mention all-state basketball pick while at Whitehall, not to mention a former beach volleyball player and current graduate assistant coach for the University of Mississippi women’s volleyball team.
“(Myself and my assistants) talked about changing a bunch of stuff yesterday in practice,” the elder Edsall said. “I told (Jaren) we’re going to double-block the middle for the first time. He said, ‘Dad, keep it simple. Don’t change a lot.’ He’s starting to sound like a volleyball coach.”
Taking his son’s advice, Edsall decided to keep doing what Whitehall’s been doing all year — single-blocking the middle and playing tough defense on the outside.
Score one for the younger generation, as Jaren’s advice worked brilliantly. The Whitehall Vikings controlled all three games of the match Thursday night and took home their first regional title since 2004 with a 25-16, 25-18, 25-9 win over Reed City.
Ball control was key, as Whitehall did not rack up service aces as it’s used to. After scoring 18 aces against Grant on Tuesday, the Vikings only posted seven of them in the finals. However, crisp offense with very few mistakes proved to be instrumental for the Vikings.
“We passed well this week,” Edsall said. “We had to match their first contact.”
Both the first two games of the match remained close for a while. Both games one and two sat at a 15-12 Whitehall lead. However, the Vikings closed out both with a vengeance. With senior Autumn Christenson again firing bolts into the Reed City end, scoring 10 kills, and teammate Hope Rillema digging out everything in sight (she had 19 for the match), there wasn’t much the Coyotes could do to counter.
The Vikings’ third senior, Bailey Seeger, tallied six digs and three kills, and fittingly enough, notched the final few service points for Whitehall in game three before the Vikings’ celebration began.
“I’m so happy for our seniors.” Edsall said. “They’ve meant so much to this volleyball program. They’ve put in more time and worked harder than anybody else. They’re good kids, great students, good leaders, good role models, all the stuff you’d want from a volleyball player.”
The senior trio was hardly alone, though. Junior Jane Kuipers proved a tough obstacle for Reed City to contend with, and she ended game two with a pair of decisive blocks of Coyotes’ attacks. She would end up tallying five blocks, a team best.
“Jane Kuipers really came through tonight,” Edsall said.
Libero Jenna Pesch notched 14 digs, and Rachel Brown again filled her role nicely, posting a team-high three aces to go with four kills. All told, it was hard to find anything that went wrong for the Vikings.
This week, the Vikings hope to play three matches — the amount they have to win to take home a state championship, which would be a first in program history. The voyage continues Tuesday night, when Whitehall will go to Cadillac and match up against the eighth-ranked team in Class B on its home floor.
Cadillac, also named the Vikings, is likely to pose the toughest test yet to Whitehall during the state tournament, but Edsall appeared confident Thursday night that if Whitehall does what it should, it will advance to the semifinals, and potentially farther.
“The only issue is, we have to play them on their home floor,” Edsall said. “We’re confident. We’re going to be prepared. If our first contact stays like it is, I like our chances.”
Whitehall sweeps Grant
FREMONT — The Whitehall Vikings had all systems working at Tuesday night’s regional semifinal against Grant, and they needed them to move on.
Whitehall erased an early deficit in emphatic fashion in game one, scoring 18 of the last 22 points. The Vikings then staved off the Grant Tigers to earn a 25-17, 25-20, 25-23 win in an exciting postseason volleyball match.
Bailey Seeger and Jenna Pesch dominated the first game with terrific serving to help erase an early 13-7 deficit in game one.
“In the first game, Bailey and Jenna won it with their serving,” Whitehall coach Ted Edsall said. “Things didn’t go our way early in that game. I thought we were ok even though we were down.”
Whitehall had to work in games two and three, but used a spectacular offensive performance from Autumn Christenson to keep the Tigers at bay.
Christenson notched 17 kills and two service aces in the contest, running up a hitting percentage of .652, a wildly impressive number.
“She’s been waiting four years to be in this situation,” Edsall said. “She’s been hurt every year and has missed a couple of these. I’m so happy for her.”
Whitehall also benefited from the presence of state Miss Volleyball finalist Hope Rillema, who had a nice all-around match, with 10 digs, seven kills and three blocks. Rillema is still working back up to 100 percent after missing much of October with mononucleosis.
“Hope didn’t hit a great percentage tonight, but just her presence out there is huge for us,” Edsall said.
Seeger’s serving combined with the great matches played by Christenson and Rillema was exactly what Edsall hoped for out of his three senior
“I told them, this is senior time,” Edsall said. “This is when the best players on the court take over.”
Fittingly enough, it was Christenson who served up an ace with the score 23-22 in game three, getting the game to match point.
One point later, Rillema finished it off with a kill that sent Whitehall on to Thursday’s regional final against Reed City.
“I like the fact that we got behind a couple of times,” Edsall said. “It’s going to happen in a tournament run. It made us focus a little more.”
Pesch had 15 digs at the libero position for the match, while Alyssa Myers contributed 31 assists with great setting. Rachel Brown added seven kills and three digs, and Seeger had five aces, five kills and five digs.