OKEMOS – Not winning the CAAC Blue championship last year left a sour taste in the mouth of Jamie Ianni’s volleyball club. And all season long, the Okemos High School coach could sense her girls were on a mission to maneuver their way back to the conference’s peak.
After breezing through conference play — only losing one set all year —the Chiefs defeated Holt in three sets in the CAAC Blue tournament title game and captured the league championship outright on Tuesday night.
“They are very goal-oriented — on the court and off the court,” Ianni said. “It’s a particular group of kids who are really focused academically, with their service work. …They are generally an intense group at practice.
“I knew we had a high ceiling, but I wasn’t sure if we would quite make it there.”
The two Class A state honorable mention teams could potentially meet once more, but with higher stakes, as both teams will compete in the district tournament held at Jackson Northwest High School next week. Okemos opens against Jackson, while the Rams (21-11-3, 8-2) face the winner of Mason and Jackson Northwest..
If the two teams were to face off again, it would be in the district championship.
“We’re really looking forward to the (postseason),” said Daria Richards, who had 10 kills for the Chiefs (36-8, 10-0) in the tournament title game. “We’re just taking it day by day and focusing on getting better every single day. …We want to definitely make a run, but our heart is in playing our game and staying composed on our side. If we do that, the rest will take care of itself.”
Richards, who along with teammate Breann DeLoye had a game-high five blocks, was pivotal in Okemos’ energetic start. The Baylor University commit recorded the match’s first kill and jumpstarted a 10-4 run to start the first set. The Chiefs went on to win decisively, 25-12, with the help of senior Rachel Thomas who recorded three of her game-high 12 kills down the stretch.
Trailing 7-3 in the second set, Holt began to tussle with its conference rival. A kill by junior Olivia Potter ignited an 8-0 run for the Rams, who won the league title last year. However, after that spurt, Okemos combated with an 11-3 run, and the duo of Thomas and Richards closed the set with a combined seven of the Chiefs’ final 10 points.
“It’s really hard (for us) to come back once we get down. It’s something we need to work on,” said Holt senior Brooke Peiffer, who led her team with six kills and two blocks. “We could have come out a little stronger than what we did. We’ll be able to brush it off. We can’t get down on ourselves.”
The Rams were facing a 17-8 deficit late in the third set before they were able to rattle off five straight points. Junior Sydney Stiles, who had two aces in the match, recorded two kills during the run. But Okemos was able to end the set by scoring eight of the final 12 points.
Sydney Fountain led the Chiefs with 29 assists and Thomas also had a game-high 12 digs.
Hannah Whiteman led Holt with 10 digs.
Contact James L. Edwards III at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @JLEdwardsIII.