The Trojans have had a flair for the dramatic this postseason, often taking on early deficits in each set of their matches, only to surge ahead and play off the emotional wave the team creates with its stingy defense and powerful outside hitting.
That was the recipe for success once again Tuesday night at Mason County Central High School when Fruitport took on Cadillac in the Class B quarterfinals.
The Trojans reeled off mid-set rallies in each set to crush the Cougars, 25-22, 25-22, 19-25 and 25-16.
See more photos from Tuesday’s match
Fruitport advances to face Pontiac Notre Dame Prep in Friday's Class B semifinals at Kellogg Arena in Battle Creek at 6:30 p.m.
"We were down in every set. For me, it was excellent to see them rage back like that and stay consistent and know they were still capable of winning this match," said Fruitport head coach Nicole Bayle. "Tonight wasn't a beautiful performance for us. We struggled to pass the ball a little bit and that makes things a lot more difficult, especially against a good team.
"Our offense got a little predictable and Cadillac did a nice job of pushing us back in service. At the same time, we did a nice job of surging back into it, having some huge rallies and that gave the girls the confidence to know that they were still in, and we could still make something happen.
"We let them out of a lot of few pressure situations. We had them on the ropes a few times with some four or five-point swings, and then we'd miss a serve or have a hitting error. Our serving kind of saved our butts in a few spots when we really needed to get back on track."
In Set 1, Fruitport outscored Cadillac 10-7 down the final stretch for a 25-22 win and an early 1-0 lead.
In Set 2, Cadillac jumped out to a 5-1 lead, but Fruitport would rally back to take a 16-14 lead over the Cougars.
The Trojans would end the match on a 9-7 run for a 25-22 win and a two-set advantage.
Set 3 saw the Trojans' recipe backfire, as Cadillac would jump out to leads of 10-5 and 20-14, before taking a 25-19 win to fend off elimination and force a fourth set.
With both crowds sensing a momentum shift, it was the Cougars who took an early 5-4 lead in Set 4.
The Trojans didn't flinch, as they haven't all postseason, and rallied to take a 15-10 lead midway through the intensifying set.
With a ticket to Battle Creek on the line, and a pressure-packed situation unfolding in front of them, the Trojans once again rallied to the finish line. Fruitport fed off the momentum of their fans and each other and outscored Cadillac 10-6 down the stretch for an emphatic 25-16 win that sent the blue-clad attendees into a frenzy.
"I love this stuff. I really stink at losing, so I'm glad we were able to win this," Bayle said. "It's an honor and a privilege to get back to this spot. Class B has always been a strong class of volleyball, and for us to be back in the state semifinals is just awesome. I don't even have the words to describe the feeling.
"These kids have put in a lot of work over the course of the season, and I couldn't be prouder of them."
Junior setter Kailey Carmean recorded seven kills, 48 assists, two service aces, seven digs and one block to lead the Trojans (36-17-4); while Kylie Oberlin added 14 kills, five digs and three blocks; and Jordyn Carlyle had 12 kills, three service aces, and six digs.
Also adding key contributions for the Trojans were: Rachel Paulsen with 10 kills, three service aces, and 14 digs; Trinity Busscher with three service aces and 31 digs; and Chloe Kern with 12 digs.
"This is amazing," Carmean said after the match. "There were crazy nerves out there and everything, but we played smart and played great defense and hit around their blocks."
Carmean and the young Trojans have a lot to play for, but they also know they have a large fanbase of former players who are cheering them on as well.
"We are definitely doing it for the alumni," she said. "My sister is actually a two-time state champion here, so I am trying to live up to that.
"We are trying to do it. We want to put a banner up on that wall. That is what we are here for, and we want that really bad. Since we started our playoff run, that is what we knew we all wanted to accomplish."
For Carmean, this playoff run was predicted a long time ago.
"It's crazy. In the seventh grade, we talked about winning state, and we used to listen to ‘Living on a Prayer' before every game in the locker room thinking about that state title.
"This year's team has great chemistry together, and we are all really close friends. I think it helps us that we can put the responsibility on each other and say, ‘Hey, you got that or we are better than this; let's do better.' That is good for us, and it helps us play well under pressure and not get psyched out."
For Bayle, the play of her outside hitters made a huge difference in the team's rallies.
"Carlyle played great tonight. She played great around the net, and she really gave us that big surge of adrenaline right when we needed it," she continued. "We needed some extra intensity in Set 2, and she really provided that.
"These kids have really stepped up and made some things happen out there. We even had some younger kids get out there tonight with Sydney Bol and Kennadi Dykstra on the court in some pressure situations."
Despite what happens the rest of the way, this young Trojans squad, featuring primarily junior performers, is poised for big things in the future.
"It's really exciting to have all these kids coming back next year, while also experiencing this playoff run," Bayle said. "A big part of being able to win is to be confident in yourself. We possess those athletes, and we're building them up this year. It's exciting for me as a coach to be bringing so many people back next year, but we're more excited for what we have in front of us Friday in Battle Creek."
FACING THE FAVORITE
The Trojans will face the top-ranked team in Class B in Friday's semifinals. The Fighting Irish come into the semifinal round with gaudy 62-2-2 record on the season.
"We'll probably be the underdog in that matchup, but we don't mind it," concluded Bayle. "I'm excited about the girls I'm bringing to the big dance. We're just going to show up, play our game and leave it all on the court."