Howell North had a solid showing in the tournament as the Knights defeated Marquette on May 18 in the first round of the tournament, but had their state hopes dashed on May 21 by Vianney.
In the first round match on May 18 at Howell North, the Knights survived a talented showing by the Mustangs for a hard-fought two-set win of 25-19 and 25-22.
Howell North previously lost a 25-22, 25-22 match to Marquette in the Lafayette Tournament on April 27. This time, the Knights sharpened their execution starting with the first set of the match.
“We had just played them a couple of weeks ago and lost to them [and] we knew they have one of the best hitters in the area in Kyle Deutschman, so our job was to kind of make sure to limit what he was going to do,” Howell North coach Robin Yuede said. “We were able to follow the strategy we had set [up] and our game plan [in the first game].”
In the second set, North struggled to find traction in the early going.
“We sort of started out a little flat in that second game,” Yuede said. “We were behind for about the first third of the game and went away from our strategy and called a time out and refocus and come back.”
The clubs traded points from an 18-18 tie until 22-22 and the Knights scored the last three consecutive points to take the match.
Senior Thomas Beye led the Knights with 10 kills, senior hitter John Garrelts had eight kills and sophomore setter Avery Ward directed the offense with 27 assists.Howell Central had a shorter stay in the tournament than Howell North, as the Spartans drew the unenviable task of facing perennial state power Vianney in their first-round match on May 18 at Howell North.
Despite battling Vianney, Howell North fell short, losing in two sets 26-24 and 25-12.
“I was hoping we would pull out the first game and that way we split the second game and that way we would have had one loss then have that third game,” Howell Central first-year coach Steven Le said.
The Spartans were neck and neck with the Golden Griffins in the first set before Vianney slipped past them to win the first game.
“We were in it for a good portion of the first game, and it was 24-24 at one point, and they just pulled it out at the end,” Le said. “In the second game, [Vianney coach] Jeff Gabbert flipped his rotation around and it gave us some problems.”
Howell Central finished an up and down season at 17-16. Le credited key players such as junior outside hitter Chris Bisset, senior outside hitter Noah Jami and junior middle blocker Eric Peasel with helping the team make the state-run.
“It was an up and down season, but we were actually playing our best volleyball at the end of the season and I thought the kids played great against Vianney,” Le said.
Howell North [20-11-3] had its run ended in the Class 4 semifinals on May 21 at Webster Groves High School by Vianney, losing 25-18 and 25-20.
The nerves of being in the state tournament and unforced errors at inopportune times hurt the Knights chances to knock off the disciplined Golden Griffins.
“Both games were pretty close at the beginning and then Vianney was able to create a little bit of separation and we just couldn’t get out footing back,” Yuede said. At this point, it’s the team that makes the least number of errors and we made too many unforced errors. They [Vianney] are a great team and they are accustomed to being in the Final Four.”
Paul Koester had four kills for Howell North and Ward recorded 10 assists and a block.
In spite of the semifinal loss, Yuede was quite pleased with this year’s club and their unexpected playoff run.
The state tournament appearance was the first in school history for the for either the boys or girls program.
“All of the credit goes to the players and all the effort they put in all season to make themselves better,” Yuede said.
The historic state appearance by the Knights brought a new level of pride and excitement to Howell North as the student body embraced the team during its playoff run.
“[The students] got a pep bus together to go to the game and they had a huge student section at the game so yeah, there was a lot of excitement around the school,” Yuede said.