Northville volleyball coach Amanda Yaklin could sense some nervousness from her team on the bus ride to Davison for Tuesday's state volleyball quarterfinal against Fenton.
Those nerves were evident early in the match, as the Mustangs fell behind 5-0 and 8-2 early on.
"That's (starting slow) been a pattern for us," Yaklin said. "So I don't burn timeouts on it, I just let them get the nerves out. This was the first time they'd been far away from home, it was a long bus ride and they were just silent and nervous the whole time. I knew when they got through those first few points they'd be OK."
Northville chipped away at Fenton's lead in the first game, eventually tying the Tigers at 21 and then winning four of the next six points to win 25-23.
That momentum carried over into the second game, with Northville taking a 4-1 lead and Fenton coming from behind to eventually tie it at five. The Tigers never led in the second game, but got within one when Northville had a 13-12 lead before the Mustangs outscored Fenton 12-1 the rest of the way to win 25-13.
In the third game, Fenton took an early lead and didn't surrender it until late. The Tigers led 20-15, and 21-19. Northville eventually tied it at 21 after a controversial call -- officials said a ball hit by Northville that appeared to be out of bounds was touched by a Fenton player. Fenton coach Linda Rusaw argued that it wasn't touched, but the point stood. Northville out-scored Fenton 10-1 to win the third and final game 25-21.
"We talked a little bit of strategy and what to do against certain players (on Fenton), but mostly I just told our girls to play their game," Yaklin said. "Our system feeds very well into what other teams try to do, so we were just really disciplined about where our base was supposed to be and stayed with what we do."
Northville's Rebecca Martin had 24 assists and 10 digs. Kelsey Knickerbocker had 13 digs. Cassidy Minghine had 16 digs and Symone Abbott had 12 kills. Northville improved to 49-3-4 with the win. Knickerbocker and Abbott also were key figures in the final points of game three. Knickerbocker served four consecutive points to cut the lead to 20-19 and Abbott spiked home the game's final point.
Fenton's season ends with the team finishing 46-18-4. The Tigers set a school record in wins this season and Fenton also won the school's first regional title for volleyball at the Class A level.
Rusaw was disappointed with the loss, but told the team to simply use the disappointment as a learning experience.
“What I told the girls was to just take back what they didn’t like about their performance tonight and use that to build on things in their life and build towards next year,” Rusaw said. “That’s all you can do. Just learn and get better.”
Fenton's Payton Maxheimer had 10 kills and 21 digs, Megan Cockin had 22 digs and Ashley Bearden had seven kills.
“Are we disappointed in our season? No. Are we disappointed we lost? Yes," Rusaw said. "But my kids played their hearts out. At times, there was no stopping them this year.”
Northville was happy to continue what has been a dominant season for the Mustangs, success that the coach attributes to great teamwork.
"Everyone has really come together and bought in, no one fights me on everything, everyone is a team player," Yaklin said. "I couldn't ask for a better group. It has been an awesome ride."
Northville advances to face Macomb Dakota in the state semifinals in Battle Creek Nov. 16. Temperance Bedford faces Grand Haven in the other semifinal.
"We'll get in the gym and get a few touches without getting burnt out (to get ready)," Yaklin said. "They've been doing a good job of that the last couple of weeks and we're hopefully just going to continue it."