ST. CLAIR SHORES — If Olivia Dobbs took anything away from this week’s Division 2 volleyball regional tournament, it’s that “mother knows best.”
“She told me to always jump high, swing my arms, be ready for the ball,” the Warren Regina freshman said. “She said always be strong with the ball because Jenna (O’Brien) has been hurt recently; I had to step up.”
“I told her, ‘You just keep your head in the game, and when you get down, you just have to come back. Stay focused,’” added Olivia’s mom, Michelle.
The motherly advice paid off for Olivia and her teammates Thursday in the St. Clair Shores South Lake High School gym, where the Saddlelites beat Harper Woods Chandler Park Academy, three games to one, to win their first regional championship in 29 years.
The last time Regina hoisted a regional trophy, the school was located in Harper Woods, and one of the team leaders was a senior middle hitter by the name of Michelle Miller — the very same mom whose ninth-grade daughter help her bring those memories back with Thursday’s victory.
“She did really good. She had some good plays; she got her serve in, and that’s important,” the proud mom said. “I thought we’d sweep them in three, so I was a little disappointed when we dropped the third set, and then we won in the fourth set, but that happens.”
Michelle has fond memories of her senior volleyball season, when the Saddlelites beat Hazel Park in a regional contest played at Royal Oak Kimball High School on March 11, 1989. She even brought a program from that game and her championship medal to Thursday’s match.
“It took me an hour to dig it out last night,” she said. “I was digging for it. It was under my bed in a shoe box.”
The mother-daughter duo compared medals after the awards presentation. The design has been updated over the years, and Michelle noted Olivia’s medal is bigger, but added the significance of the award outshines the size of the trinket.
“She didn’t really get many medals in junior high — they give ribbons a lot now, at least with her travel volleyball club,” Olivia’s mom said.
Incidentally, one of Michelle’s teammates on Regina’s previous regional-winning squad is now coaching the Saddlelites — Christie Burley-Lietzow.
“In ‘89 and ‘90 we had some strong volleyball teams,” Burley-Lietzow said. “There’s a couple of moms who were on that team as well, so we came out with some inspiring words, and we’re going to give them more inspiring words as we go into the quarters.”
It’s already been an inspiring season for Regina. The Saddlelites won a Catholic League sectional championship and reached the league finals. The team swept matches against Warren Lincoln and Madison Heights Lamphere to win a district championship, and dispatched Ferndale 3-0 in the regional semi-final last Thursday.
Chandler Park gave the Saddlelites a formidable challenge in Thursday’s final.
“They played tough, and we knew they were going to be tough; we knew they had some good hitters,” Burley-Lietzow said. “We told our girls if you put some blocks on them, you should be able to take some momentum off their hits, and I think we did that, and we served tough. The girls stuck to the plan perfectly.”
Regina won the first two sets in the best-of-five match by identical 25-15 scores, but the production dropped off in the third set and Chandler Park prevailed, 25-22.
When the Eagles took that momentum into the fourth set and jumped out to an early 8-2 lead, it was time for Regina’s lone senior to pass along some inspiring words of her own during a timeout.
“I told them, ‘This better not be my last game.’ That’s all it took,” Claire Greenway said.
Sure enough, the Saddlelites chipped away at the deficit, tied the game at 12, and took nine out of the following 11 points to put the match firmly in their command, eventually winning, 25-19.
“We wanted it. We weren’t going to let up. We weren’t going to lose; we wanted to go farther. We pulled it off,” Greenway said. “It’s been such a long time since we’ve had the opportunity to even be here and be this far. It’s been 12 years since we’ve won districts, so coming this far, we knew we wanted it so bad. I’m just very excited that we could win this.”
“It just says that we always just stick together, and we always have each other’s backs and we just support each other,” Olivia Dobbs said. “It’s crazy. I can’t believe it. I never imagined it being my first year on varsity, going this far.”
Next up for the Saddlelites is a state quarterfinal match against Pontiac Notre Dame Prep, at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at St. Clair County Community College in Port Huron. The first half of Tuesday’s doubleheader (6 p.m.) features the only other remaining Catholic League team, No. 1-ranked Farmington Hills Mercy, in a Division 1 quarterfinal against Macomb L’Anse Creuse North.