Brighton advances to district volleyball final

Brighton players and coaches celebrate after winning Wednesday's district semifinal match with Hartland. The Bulldogs take on South Lyon on Friday for the district title. (Photo by Tim Robinson)
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HARTLAND — Youth met Experience Wednesday night in a district volleyball semifinal, and it was Experience, in the form of the Brighton Bulldogs, that prevailed.

But not before Youth, a.k.a. the Hartland volleyball team, got off to a quick start.

The Eagles won the first sets before Brighton took over and won the last three to advance to Friday’s Division 1 district final against South Lyon. Earlier, the Lions rallied twice en route to a 3-0 sweep of Howell.

The game will start at 7 p.m. at Hartland High School.

“In the first game, they definitely were very excited,” Hartland coach Katy Westenberg said “We were siding-out well and getting the rallies and long points we needed. We got a big boost of  confidence over serving tough and things were falling our way.”

Brighton players and coaches celebrate after winning Wednesday's district semifinal match with Hartland. The Bulldogs take on South Lyon on Friday for the district title. (Photo by Tim Robinson)
Brighton players and coaches celebrate after winning Wednesday’s district semifinal match with Hartland. The Bulldogs take on South Lyon on Friday for the district title. (Photo by Tim Robinson)

The Eagles used three freshmen at times, and their athleticism and enthusiasm carried them to a 25-20 win.

“We didn’t know they would come out that strong,” Brighton’s Gabrielle Tschannen said. “They played so well and it went back and forth the entire game until that very end. We just knew that we had to relax and we had the next couple games.”
“I think we were a little cautious,” Brighton coach Shelley Sims said. “Cautious and kind of feeling it out, even though that shouldn’t have been the case since we’ve played Hartland a couple of times. I don’t think our offense was where it ought to be.”

The Bulldogs, who beat Hartland twice in the regular season, got going in the second game, then ran away and hid in the third, taking a 22-5 lead en route to an easy victory.

“Even in the second game, we played well and held our own,” Westenberg said. “We had some really great rallies that we won. It was the third and fourth game where we took a step back and we weren’t as aggressive as we were  in the first two, and that kind of bit us in the butt becuase they put on the pressure and we didn’t push back.”

The Bulldogs were led by Tschannen (23 kills, four blocks), but got a big boost from a freshman of their own, Celia Cullom, who had 19 assists and eight kills while serving four aces.

“It was Celia’s serving, and I thought our serve-receive was great tonight,” Sims said. “We’ve got to put the ball on the court. Whether it’s a hard swing or a tip, you’ve got to find the court somehow.”

The win was a bit of a relief for a Brighton team that had been eliminated by Hartland the last two years in the district.

As for Howell, coach Jayne Williams kept her team afterward to watch the first two sets in the Brighton match, a chance to absorb lessons in the aftermath of the loss.

“We were up in both the second and third games,” Williams said. “We talked to the girls and we said it’s all about the finish. It’s not just the start, but the finish. Whether we got tentative, or they put the ball more at us, we’ve got to execute.”

The Highlanders hit some milestones, including a rare win over Hartland, in what was a rebuilding season.

“We have to take the next step, and that comes with the girls truly believing in themselves,” Willaims said. “I think there were times they were shocked by what they died, like beating Hartland and going five (sets) with Brighton.”

Wednesday’s match was only the second time this season the Highlanders had been swept.

“It’s progress,” Williams said. “Now we need to finish it. We’re getting close.”