Two months to the day of their final matches, volleyball players Birch Run and Valley Lutheran will return to the pitch with Final Four appearances on the line.
Valley Lutheran, who reached the Final Four last season, is aiming for a return trip when he faces Royal Oak Shrine in a Division 3 quarterfinal at 5 p.m. Tuesday at Fenton High School.
Birch Run, who won his second regional title in school history, will look to make some more history on Tuesday when he takes on Cadillac at 6 p.m. in a Division 2 quarterfinal in high school Alma.
The teams haven’t played since Nov. 12, when the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services postponed fall sports. Football, volleyball and swimming have been allowed to restart as part of a rapid COVID-19 testing pilot program.
Volleyball teams were allowed to resume training on Monday, January 4.
“It was tough Monday,” Birch Run coach Erin Nostrandt said. “It could have been worse. The players continued to train at home. It’s not the same, but they wanted to keep their stamina as best they could.
“We had to push hard because we basically only have six practices before our game on Tuesday. I felt like they had rebounded pretty well, considering they hadn’t been to a gym for almost two months.
Birch Run is 37-5 behind All-States first team forward Emma McIlhargie and honorable All-State picks Alexis Lasley and Kalliann Cook. Cadillac, 42-5, is led by first-team hitter Macy Brown and all-state second passer Renee Brines.
“Every team is in the same situation when it comes to practice,” Nostrandt said. “We’ve never faced Cadillac, but we know they’re a strong team. You must be to continue playing. At this point, no one is taken lightly.
Valley Lutheran is 31-2 in the Division 3 quarterfinal on Tuesday against 15-5 Royal Oak Shrine.
“In the history of the sport, I don’t know if a sport was taken off for two months and then had a week of training before an elimination game,” Valley Lutheran coach Jon Frank said. “We had a good week of training. They did a good job staying active during the two months off.
“They were rusty but in good shape.”
The Chargers are led by All-State Second Team passer Sydney Krause, as well as All-State Third Team hitter Peyton Bartnikowski and center blocker Ashlyn Martin, Honorable Mention. The Royal Oak Shrine is led by Senior Libero Mya Minjares, an Honorable Mention to All States.
“Royal Oak Shrine are a very disjointed team so it’s hard to kill them,” Frank said. “They play a very good defense and attack from everywhere. “
Birch Run and Valley Lutheran would play Thursday if they win, with semifinal games at the Kellogg Center in Battle Creek.
Valley Lutheran would qualify to play Thursday at noon against Grandville quarterfinal winner Calvin Christian-Schoolcraft. If Birch Run wins, the Panthers will play Thursday at 6:30 p.m. against Grand Rapids quarterfinal winner Christian-Edwardsburg.
All championship games are held at the Kellogg Center on Saturday, with the Division 2 Finals at 4 p.m. and the Division 3 Finals at noon.
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