As her team huddled before the match-deciding set, St. Michael the Archangel Catholic senior Abby Salanski emphatically addressed her teammates.
Salanski is the Guardians’ team captain and one of seven seniors on the volleyball squad. Those seniors are used to ending their season at state, not in a district tournament. A reminder surely wasn’t necessary, but a little reinforcement wasn’t a bad idea.
“I was just saying how this is our year,” Salanski said. “I was encouraging us to keep our energy high and keep playing like the family we are.”
That didn’t happen right away for St. Michael in the Class 3 District 14 championship match against Pembroke Hill. But after dropping the first set, the Guardians took the second and dominated down the stretch in the third for a 19-25, 25-17, 25-21 victory Wednesday night at Notre Dame de Sion.
Salanski took over the huddle with the blessing of St. Michael coach Sheridan Zarda, who has led the Guardians to state in the program’s first two seasons. That’s the leadership that made the Guardians go in the deciding set.
“They’ve been here before,” Zarda said. “Having them lead and be the ones who take charge really was the game-changer. It’s their last time and they’re going to go out and they’re going to go out hard.”
Pembroke Hill (21-10-5) started the third set with a 5-1 run fueled mostly by St. Michael errors. The Guardians rallied to make it 11-10 and took command with a 10-1 run.
Salanski, who had a team-best eight kills along with fellow senior Taylor Westhoff, picked up two of them with mid-court shots during the run. Colleen McNamara, another senior, added a kill on the back line that put St. Michael up 23-15. Pembroke Hill put together a 5-0 run before the Guardians could put them away.
“We started to flow,” Salanski said. “We started getting in our groove and Zarda told us just to play hard, have fun and if this our last game, you want to enjoy it.”
It could have been St. Michael’s last game had the Guardians not bounced back from a sluggish first set. Pembroke Hill, with deadly outside hitters and a solid back line, took control with a 6-1 run that produced a 14-9 lead. The two teams went back and forth in the second set until St. Michael finished it with an 8-1 run.
“I won’t say we went in the first game intimidated … but we just weren’t playing our disciplined game,” Salanski said. “Second game we were like, ‘Oh man, if we don’t win this, we’re not going on,’ and we kind of kicked into high gear and just went from there.”
St. Michael (19-9-2) goes on to a Class 3 sectional matchup, which it will host on Saturday. A win there puts the Guardians in the quarterfinals, which it will also host that day.
Win that one, and they’re back at state, this time in Class 3 after making it in Class 2 the previous two seasons.
“They know that experience,” Zarda said. “They want so bad to get back they’re going to do anything, like tonight. They’re going to give it their all.”