VOLLEYBALL DISTRICT PREVIEW: Portagers and Lakers look to district rematch


Bear Lake’s Emily Belinsky bumps the ball, as teammate Wren Gilbert (10) looks on. (News Advocate file photo)

Bear Lake’s Emily Belinsky bumps the ball, as teammate Wren Gilbert (10) looks on. (News Advocate file photo)

Bear Lake and Onekama played to a dramatic finish only a week ago and they could be setting up to see each other again in the district semifinals.

The Portagers won in four sets (25-27, 25-17, 25-12 and 26-24) after fighting off a quick start from the Lakers.

Bear Lake (4-15-4) will have to play Buckley in the opening game to get to Onekama, but Laker coach Renee Mallison thinks her team is capable of making a run.

“They’re winnable games. It’s a good draw and a good side to be on for the district,” she said.

The Lakers have one more regular season game before going into the district tournament. They will visit Buckley on Thursday in a prelude of Monday’s opener.

“It’s huge because we turn around and see them Monday and we can’t take them lightly on Thursday or Monday,” Mallison said.

Mallison stresses how important it is to play well on Thursday to set a tone for Monday and whatever games could lie ahead. She hopes to eliminate some of the lulls in their play to build momentum.

“We’re out here to play tough and we’re not going to give up if they score a couple of points on us,” she said. “We can’t have the attitude of just getting them on the next set. We need to have the attitude of ‘let’s get it, let’s have it.’ We need to move our feet and anticipate that ball.”

Throughout the season the Lakers’ struggles have often been self-inflicted with the team making unforced errors that let their opponents build momentum. Mallison is hoping that her team can limit those next week.

“We want it especially being in our gym. It’s our gym to play in. We have to play tough throughout the whole district,” she said. “No one is going to give you those points. You have to earn them. We have to stop giving away points and make them earn them. They’re not letting us have them, then why should we let them have them?”

To make a run the Lakers will need help from their top contributors like Emily Belinsky who has 29 aces, 11 kills, 71 assists and 56 digs on the season; Abby Cross who has 25 aces, 31 kills, 32 assists, 34 digs; Wren Gilbert who has 50 kills and 34 digs; Alexis Juarez who has 32 aces, 29 kills, 53 digs and Kaitlynn Omar who has 32 kills and 15 blocks.

Onekama has had an up and down season with its entrance into the Northwest Conference with a 2-6 conference record, but coach Linda Elo is hoping the tougher schedule has prepared her team for the task ahead. In the Northwest Conference they had to play defending state champion Leland along with Frankfort, Suttons Bay and Kingsley, who all have an opportunity to make a deep run.

“When you play some of these top teams in our conference you have to have good defense to stay in the game,” she said. “We really have worked on that to be a part of our routine every day.”

With Wednesday’s opener it will be 14 days between games, but she thinks that is a good thing for her team. The time has given them a chance to step back and work on the issues that they have that they haven’t had time to work on over the season.

“There are regulations that we can’t really scrimmage after our season, but it’s good. We get to brush up on some things and actually implement some things that we haven’t,” Elo said.

The Portagers have a bye going into the district and they will be able to sit back and watch the Lakers take on Buckley. Both are teams that Onekama has defeated this season.

“They’re (Buckley) in our conference and we defeated them. It’s kind of nice to have that win over them under our belt. We had a chance to see the team and see how they play on their court,” Elo said.

“They (Bear Lake) play good team defense and they left their heart on the floor when they played us.”

Bear Lake will play in the opening game at 7 p.m. on Monday. If the Lakers win they will play Onekama on Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. for a chance to advance to the district finals.

On the other side of the bracket Brethren, 10th ranked Fife Lake Forest Area and Mesick will be fighting it out for a chance to advance to the finals on Friday at 7 p.m.


Posted by Brian Fogg

Brian is the sports writer for the Manistee News Advocate. You can reach him at (231) 398-3110 or bfogg@pioneergroup.com.

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