Bulldogs beat JoBurg in five-set Ski Valley showdown

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INDIAN RIVER — For the past few seasons, the road to the Ski Valley Conference volleyball championship has passed through Johannesburg-Lewiston.

If you want to win the conference, you better eliminate the Cardinals.

But if there’s one team that has shown it’s capable of scoring big wins over the past year, it’s the Inland Lakes Bulldogs.

On Tuesday, the Bulldogs – last year’s Division 4 runners-up – delivered another such memorable performance, coming back twice to stun two-time defending champions Ski Valley in a thrilling 3-2 win (26 -28, 26-24, 19-25, 25-21, 15-12) at home.

“We were second to JoBurg in the conference last year, so obviously we knew it was going to be a big game,” Inland Lakes coach Nicole Moore said. “We talked a lot about it in training the day before (Monday) because we only had Monday to be totally focused on JoBurg, and a lot about how we needed to be in the right mental state before this game, and we We have to be calm but ready to work because big games can turn into tense players and nobody plays well like that.

Despite giving up a long and intense first set, confidence grew for the Bulldogs (7-5-2, 3-0 Ski Valley), who responded with a narrow victory in a competitive second set.

But like the Cardinals have done so much in the past against league foes, they fought back and took control, comfortably winning the third.

That night, however, the Bulldogs refused to fall apart. Instead of letting the match go to a four, the Bulldogs forced a deciding fifth set, which they would eventually win.

For the Bulldogs, it was all about showing mental resolve as they were able to stun the Cardinals, who have been the gold standard in what has been a tough conference for the past few years.

“The first set, we lost 28-26, and I was still really proud of them. I was like, ‘Hey, we’re competing against a really good team at a really high level. Now the challenge is, can we sustain this? and if you’ve seen our other Ski Valley games we crashed and lost a set,” Moore said. “It was a great testament to be able to get out of those big dips and ruts and play a competitive match in five sets.

“There are a lot of motivating factors with this team because we lost all three times we played them (JoBurg) last year. In conference, it was our worst game in the conference. A lot of comebacks are a lot of motivation, so I think that kept them on track, I guess, but it was so good to see.

Inner Lakes senior KC Cain passes the ball as fellow senior Natalie Wandrie (12) watches JoBurg on Tuesday.

In the win, Moore said the Bulldogs were fueled by the play and leadership of their top upperclassmen, a group that has been instrumental in the program’s recent success.

“Ryann (Clancy), Natalie (Wandrie) and Hannah (Robinson) stepped up in some big moments on the outside,” Moore said. “Obviously Natalie is a go-to hitter in critical situations. Ryann had some great digs and she’s sort of our vocal leader, and then Hannah was able to step in and get us some good plays when Natalie was in the back row.

While this is a massive win for the Bulldogs, they know there’s still a lot of work to do if they are to claim the conference title they crave.

“We have a competitive conference,” Moore said. “Our conference, every game, you have to show up. Yes, this win is important. Yes, we are undefeated in the conference at the moment, but it has to stay that way.”

Inland Lakes will be in non-conference action on Thursday when it hosts Harbor Springs.

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