Portagers get past Lakers to win district title, end 15-year drought

Onekama volleyball won its first district title since 2003 Saturday, defeating Bear Lake in three sets by scores of 25-14, 25-8 and 25-8 in Brethren. (Kyle Kotecki/News Advocate)

Onekama volleyball won its first district title since 2003 Saturday, defeating Bear Lake in three sets by scores of 25-14, 25-8 and 25-8 in Brethren. (Kyle Kotecki/News Advocate)

BRETHREN — With a three-set win over Bear Lake volleyball Saturday, Onekama won its first district title since 2003 and earned a spot in the Division 4 regional semifinals. The Portagers bested the Lakers by scores of 25-14, 25-8 and 25-8.

“We had this day in sight for most of the season,” said Onekama coach Linda Elo. “Just to be here and experience this is the highlight of the year.”

Bear Lake jumped out to a 3-1 advantage before Kaitlyn McGrady took to the service line and recorded three consecutive aces for Onekama. A spike by Colleen McCarthy put the Portagers up 6-4 before the Lakers forced a side out and Kaitlynn Omar aced to tie things up at 6-6.

“I felt like our team didn’t play up to its potential,” said Bear Lake coach Marla Evans. “There were times where they played great and you could see the desire to win, but I just felt like it was absent tonight.

“Onekama’s a good team so I’m not going to take anything from them. They’ve got some amazing hitters, a scrappy defense and they outplayed us.”

A McCarthy spike gave the Portagers a 7-6 advantage they would not relinquish for the remainder of the set. A spike by Sophie Wisniski gave Onekama 24 points and the Lakers failed to return the following serve to give the Portagers the first set.

“(Bear Lake) came out strong in the first game,” Elo said. “That was really great. They have a good defense. Just love to see them play strong in the first game. That was really nice.”

Chloe Wisniski started the second set behind the service line, recording an ace and staying put until an errant serve gave the Lakers a side out trailing 5-1. McCarthy tallied three kills during Onekama’s 5-2 run which pushed the Portager lead up to 10-3.

“(We’re) just playing consistent — playing at the level they’ve been playing,” Elo said. “It’s just a big confidence thing to know they can go in and stay at that level. We’re really excited about the win. It’s been 15 years.”

McCarthy led the Portagers with 12 kills and 10 digs. Sophie Wisniski added nine kills, Hanna Hughes amassed 30 assists and four aces and McGrady had three solo blocks.

“(Onekama) pretty much played exactly how we knew they would,” Evans said. “We knew to expect big hits and they delivered.”

 A block by Bear Lake’s Julie Schmidt gave the Lakers the serve while facing a 13-6 deficit. Schmidt then took to the service line and recorded an ace to pull the Lakers to within six points before Onekama went on a 12-1 run to take the second set.

“The competition was steep tonight, and we knew that coming into it,” Evans said. “We did our best to prepare. They worked hard — they really did. We just couldn’t get it done.”

Bear Lake took a 3-0 lead to start the final stanza. After a side out, Chloe Wisniski held serve for six points, giving the Portagers a 7-3 lead.

Schmidt finished with two kills, one assists, one ace and one dig, Omar added three kills, one ace and one dig while Cosima Holler had a team-high five kills to go with one dig.

After a Laker timeout, Omar recorded a block to make the score 10-5. McCarthy toed the service line a short time later while enjoying a 14-7 advantage and held serve until a carry violation gave Bear Lake a side out while facing a 24-8 deficit. Sophie Wisniski bumped the ball over and the Lakers were unable to return it, punching the Portagers’ ticket to the regional semifinal.

McCarthy was excited to be a part of the team that ended Onekama’s district title drought.

“It’s awesome,” McCarthy said. “We’ve been wanting it for a long time.”

While being on the wrong end of a three-set sweep is not an ideal way to end a season, Evans is proud of how the team developed throughout the course of the season and the strides the program has taken since last year’s campaign.

“Most of our team goals have been met,” Evans said. “We wanted to do well in a tournament. We did — we brought home a trophy. We wanted to do well in the postseason. At least we made it out of Round 2 and on to finals. Our season record for the league was .500, which is better than last years’.

“Overall, improvements were huge. The whole team grew a lot as athletes and as a team.”

With the Portagers moving on to regional play, McCarthy knows what facet of the team’s game will need to improve if Onekama hopes to continue its postseason run.

“Our defense,” McCarthy said. “Receiving harder hits than we had tonight.”

Onekama plays Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart in a Division 4 regional semifinal 6 p.m. Tuesday at Bear Lake.

 “They’re a solid team,” Elo said. “They have a similar record to us so we’re going to work hard at eliminating some stuff and playing really solid.”

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