By Noah Genson
MONTAGUE – It was a battle of the volleyball elites in the West Michigan Conference on Tuesday night.
Rivals Montague and Whitehall, both undefeated in the conference, faced off with the regular season title on the line.
Montague rose to the occasion, capturing the match and the top spot in the standings with a 3-0 victory.
It’s the first regular season conference title for Montague since 2015. The Wildcats improved to 34-11-2 overall and 7-0 in the league.
While Montague head coach Shawn Bectel wants his players to enjoy the victory, he knows they have bigger fish to fry.
“Our eyes are really on the conference tournament and districts,” Bectel said. “We came in and were really focused tonight, but we know there are bigger things ahead.”
Even with a young team – the Wildcats have only two seniors – Bectel has a high degree of confidence in his squad.
“I feel like we can rattle off 5 to 10 points at any time,” the coach said. “The leadership that we have out there, and the trust that they all have in one another, is amazing to see.”
The Wildcats quickly took control of the first set, jumping out to a 12-5 lead behind three kills from Reilly Murphy.
The Vikings made a push, cutting the lead to just two at 16-14, but service runs from Raegan Murphy and Reilly Murphy helped propel the Wildcats to a 25-18 first-set victory.
“I think the nerves really got to us in the first set,” said Whitehall coach Ted Edsall. “Our serving and passing just wasn’t sharp.”
In the second set, after a back-and-forth start, the Vikings grabbed a 24-20 lead and were within a point of victory. But Montague called a time out, regrouped, then stole the momentum in dramatic fashion.
A service run by Taylor Netcott and three key kills from Raegan Murphy helped the Wildcats rally for a 27-25 victory.
The third set was all Wildcats, who took control early and completed the sweep with a 25-12 win..
The Wildcats were led by Reilly Murphy with 16 kills and Ally Hall with 10 kills and five blocks. Raegan Murphy was solid in the service game with five aces.
Whitehall was paced by Rileigh Thommen and Rayne Thompson with eight and six kills, respectively. The Vikings fell to 19-17-2 on the year and 6-1 in conference play.
With the GMAA city tournament on Saturday, Bectel is looking forward to testing his team against some of the other top squads in Muskegon County.
“We want to go there and hone our skills,” he said. “It’s some good competition, and while it would be nice to win, I just really want to see us improve.”