Davison — Lydia Podlesak said there is one theme for the Fenton varsity volleyball team this season.
“We have a board in our gym and the words on top of the board are ‘mental toughness,’” Podlesak said. “Our coaches emphasize that more than anything this season. If you saw us at the beginning of the year, it’s not comparable to where we are now. That’s our biggest factor to make us more successful, that is mental toughness.”
The Tigers used their talent and a little mental toughness in the second set to defeat the Linden Eagles 25-20, 25-14, 25-20 at a Division 1 district semifinal contest at Davison High School Wednesday. Unfortunately, the Tigers were unable to keep the run going, losing a challenging four-set match to Grand Blanc in the district final Thursday night. Fenton lost to the Bobcats 25-19, 21-25, 25-23, 25-21.
Wednesday’s win against Linden marked the Tigers’ third against the Eagles this season.
“It’s fun. It’s a big deal,” Podlesak said. “It’s (my) senior year and (the seniors) want to go out with a bang. We want to make it last as long as we can because after this, it’s done. Linden is our big rival and we play with a lot of these girls on our travel team. That makes the competition that much more important. We love those girls that we play against. It’s all in good spirit. They always give us a good game because they are your friends and teammates. At the end of the day we love them.”
The match started as a pretty competitive affair. The two rivals battled to five tied scores and three lead changes during the first set. Linden enjoyed its largest lead at two points four times. The last time came at 10-8 on a kill by Makenna O’Keefe. However, a Linden service error was followed by a Podlesak kill and a Katelyn Beverly ace, giving Fenton the 12-10 lead. From there, the Tigers always led, but the Eagles remained reasonably close. However, the lead grew to 23-18 after a kill by Podlesak. Linden tried to make one more run for the first-set victory, getting back-to-back kills by Linnea Wittbrodt, but Podlesak responded with a kill of her own, setting up set point. Adrie Staib responded with an ace, giving the Tigers the 25-20 win.
The Eagles jumped to an 8-1 lead in the second set, mostly on the strength of Wittbrodt’s serves. She had three consecutive aces. Eventually, a kill by O’Keefe built the lead to 8-1. It was a 10-2 lead after an ace by Avery Koan. However, the lead quickly fell. Sydney Acho served six straight points while Lilly O’Brien had four kills during a seven-point Fenton run.
Later, back-to-back Linden hitting errors enabled Fenton to tie the set at 12 and take a 13-12 lead. Linden was able to tie it back at 13-13 on a Katie Strickert kill, but two consecutive hitting errors gave Fenton a 15-13 lead. With Beverly at the service line, the Tigers scored 10 straight points with many coming on Beverly aces or Fenton overpass kills. Fenton led 24-13 when the run ended. Set point came on a Podlesak kill.
The third set was back to the pattern of the first set where it looked like both teams had chances to win it. Linden enjoyed an 11-7 lead, sparked by three kills each from Wittbrodt and O’Keefe. However, the Tigers slowly chipped away at that lead. A kill by Anna Weigle tied the set at 12-12 and an overpass kill by Sydney Sahr gave the Tigers a 13-12 lead.
The teams exchanged the lead a couple of times and Linden had its final lead at 17-16 on a Strickert kill. However, a Linden service error was followed by a Linden hitting error, and the Tigers had the lead for good. Down the stretch Beverly had two kills and Weigle and Podlesak had a kill each. Podlesak’s kill was match point.
The second set was a key juncture after Linden lost its early lead.
“The minute they started coming back, we folded and couldn’t regain our composure, and that’s a bummer,” Linden varsity volleyball coach Cori Mason said. “But they did come out in the third set and played hard. We have had a tendency to fold in second set and then fold again in the third set. ... So to see them come back in the third set, I was proud of them.”
The Tigers were pleased with their performance.
“I really liked our energy,” Podlesak said. “The second game we were down seven points and that didn’t stop our energy from dampening. We just kept going, cheering everyone on and I think that’s what got us out of that rut.”
“The past couple of weeks we changed some stuff around,” Fenton varsity coach Meghan Polce said. “At the beginning of the year it took time to get team confidence, and especially me being a new coach it takes a little bit more time for them to get to used to you. And I had to learn what the girls were capable of, who plays better next to each other as well. I think we have progressed and I think we are off to a good start in the district right now.
“My senior leadership carried us today. Right from the beginning the girls said they were not going to be done yet.”
Sahr led a diverse Fenton attack with 16 kills. Podlesak had 10 kills while Weigle and Beverly provided six and five kills, respectively. Staib had four kills. Sydney Acho directed the offense with 32 assists. Abby Lamb had 11 digs and was perfect on her 11 service receive chances. Beverly had 10 digs and Abby Sizemore and Abby Sizemore had seven digs each.
Wittbrodt led Linden’s offense with six kills while Ellie Klocek had five kills. Strickert had four kills. Wittbrodt also had three aces while Avery Koan had two aces.
“When we started the season we had five kids that played for me for three years and the upcoming juniors. Our goal was to find that chemistry and intermingle those juniors and seniors so there wasn’t a division,” Mason said. “I thought the kids did a really good job of that throughout the season of making new friendships and forging team bonds and chemistry.”