Vikings face Lake Odessa in state quarterfinals

Published 8:07 am Tuesday, November 14, 2017

NILES — Two of the top four teams in the state of Michigan will square off in the Class B state quarterfinals at East Lansing High School Tuesday night.

The No. 3-ranked Lake Odessa-Lakewood Vikings, runners up in the state last season, will face the No. 4-ranked Niles Vikings for a spot in Friday’s state semifinals at the Kellogg Center in Battle Creek.

Niles is making its first trip to the quarterfinals after winning the school’s first district and regional championships.

Lakewood is no stranger to this round of the postseason having been the state runner-up in 2016 and 2014, as well as winning the state championship in 2012.

Niles reached the Elite 8 with a five-set victory over Edwardsburg last Thursday night.

The Eddies pushed the Niles Vikings to the limit before falling 19-25, 25-23, 21-25, 25-22 and 15-8.

Lake Odessa had little trouble winning its first consecutive regional championship as it swept Marshall 25-17, 25-18 and 25-16.

The Lakewood Vikings are led by a core group of six seniors, who as middle schoolers, sat on the end of the bench and watched Lake Odessa win the state championship.

That group of seniors has spent the last four years trying to get back to the title match.

They are Kayla Sauers, Breanna Wickerink, Katelynn Kietzman, Lisa Hewitt, Erica Potter and Alivia Bendedict.

Lake Odessa also has a 6-foot-1 freshman middle blocker in Aubrey O’Gorman.

“It is going to take positive energy, focus, composure and a continued domination mindset to beat Odessa and advance to the semifinals,” Niles coach Jenny Nate said. “My team is mentally and physically prepared for this match. We know that we have to stay focused on our strengths, our game and controlling the runs. And we are ready.

“We also need to remember our why. These girls have been going into every match with the goal of playing for their teammates, their school, and their city. It’s bigger than just themselves, and that adds to their drive to win. We came into school today and the halls and walls and doors are decorated. My players’ parents and families, the Niles High School staff, students, Niles Community Schools’ staff, administrators, and the whole community has rallied around us.

“We are overwhelmed with gratitude, and all of this positive support continues to play a factor in our determination to win.”

Niles is also led by its senior class, which has set a new standard for the volleyball program with 45 wins last season and the school’s first district and regional titles.

That group consists of Peyton Cavanaugh, Carly Barton, Breanna Love, McKenzie Pulliam, Jora Barnes, Aubrey Nichols and Bella Rasler, who signed a national letter of intent to play volleyball at Grand Valley State University on Monday.

“It feels really good,” said Rasler, who went down to the floor during the closing stages of the fifth set against Edwardsburg with a cramp. “This has been our goal since day one. We will practice hard and give 100 percent. I cannot wait for it.”

Tickets are $5 per person.