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VOLLEYBALL: Athens survives Berkley in five games

Alexis Van Hoef scores a point for Athens. (For the Oakland Press/LIZ CARNEGIE)

Julia Viner spikes the ball as Berkley teammates, Mekena Donahue and Shannon Smith prepare to assist. (For the Oakland Press/LIZ CARNEGIE)

Berkley's Alexis Northcross dives for the ball. (For the Oakland Press/LIZ CARNEGIE)

BERKLEY – Troy Athens looked like ‘world beaters,’ then “fell apart” before getting the momentum back in time to outlast resilient Berkley 25-5, 24-26, 21-25, 25-11, 15-11 in an epic 5-game battle of Oakland Activities Association White Division volleyball programs on Tuesday.

Troy Athens (16-9 overall, 1-1 OAA White Division) was already playing without junior libero Michelle Donato who was out with a concussion injury, and in Tuesday’s game they lost their second libero, Hailey Patrick, to a shoulder injury.

“It started out with our two liberos out with injuries, but I was proud our team didn’t give up,” Troy Athens senior defensive specialist Mary Grace Stark said Tuesday as the Red Hawks dropped consecutive games to the Bears after blistering through the opening match. “We didn’t give up for Hailey.”

Instead, Karli Filips – a junior defensive specialist - put on the libero shirt and ended up with 16 digs and two kills and five service points for the deep-bench Red Hawks.

“Karli put on the libero shirt after the injuries and played outstanding,” Troy Athens coach Christine Stanichuk said.

Stark, meanwhile, had 11 straight service points in the first game as the Red Hawks cruised to a 25-5 victory.

In the second game, there were nine tie scores but it was senior Alexis Northcross winning point that gave Berkley a dramatic 26-24 victory.

In the third game, host Berkley jumped out to an 8-1 lead and led from start to finish en route to a hard-fought 25-21 victory.

“We fell apart losing two games in a row, but came back mentally and started blocking at the net and got the momentum back to play our brand of volleyball,”Stanichuk said. “Berkley was outplaying us – out-hustling us – give them credit. But we turned it around.”

In the fourth game, it was the Red Hawks’ turn for a fast start as they jumped out to a 9-1 lead that paved the way for a convincing 25-11 victory.

In the fifth and deciding game, Troy Athens broke open a tie game to take a 4-1 lead, then rode team work on their way to a 15-11 victory.

“Finish it – that’s our new motto,” Stanichuk said. “They finished it tonight.”

Troy Athens outside hitter Lauren Atwell had six kills and four blocks, while freshman hitter Alexis Van Hoef added five kills and five blocks for the winners.

The Red Hawks rallied behind 5-foot-11 senior hitter Haley Zemmer and 6-foot junior middle hitter Katie Scudder who both came off the bench to spark the visitors.

Still, Stanichuk said the comeback didn’t surprise her as the Red Hawks have already won two tournaments this season after taking home the hardware at The Daily Tribune Tournament and Bloomfield Hills Tournament.

“We’re having a great season,” Coach Stanichuk said. “We just have to finish it.”

Troy Athens also knows they have been in matches they’ve lost this season to the likes of Birmingham Groves and Troy.

“We know we’re a really strong team,” Starks noted, “even when we lost game against Groves and Troy, that we should have won. We know we have to play to the ability that we have.”

Senior hitter Alexis Northcross was brilliant for the Bears, who dropped to 0-3 in the OAA White Division.

“I’m glad we made it a 5-game match,” Northcross said Tuesday. “They’re a good team. I’m not sad about the loss. We have a new coach and a lot of underclassmen, and we played good.”

Berkley was also led by the relentless back row play of junior Chloe Rinkel; the outstanding hitting of junior Grace Hammerle; and the solid all-around play of senior Markena Donahue, and sophomores Jane Hammerle and Mary McClure.

Also, Berkley’s Shannon Smith not only played well on the court, but she also sang a beautiful rendition of the National Anthem on Tuesday.

“A lot of good things,” said Bears first-year coach Eric Gardner, who was not disappointed after the loss, instead focusing on the positives in a match that could have gone either way.

“I am extremely proud of the way we played,” he said. “It was a complement to our mental toughness after losing the first game (25-5). This game will help get battle-tested the rest of the way.

“Credit Troy Athens for the win,” he continued. “They really made some plays down the stretch. But I am happy with our progress and development.”

Troy Athens is back in action on Thursday in a home match against Farmington Hills Harrison.

Last Updated: 10/8/2013 11:02:16 PM EST

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