For the fifth season in a row this weekend, the Jackson volleyball team brought home a district championship and are now one win away from reaching the Class 5 state final four.
The Indians did so in commanding fashion by defeating Oakville 3-0 (25-22, 25-22, 25-14) as Jackson’s top outside hitters senior Nadia Wasilewski (11 kills), senior Ella Domian (nine) and junior Katy St. John (eight) combined for 28 kills.
Setting the ball to these three was a combination of setters between senior Payton Gannon and sophomore Ava Wessell. Wessell actually led the way with 13 assists, while Gannon paced her with 10.
Defensively, five Indians had five or more digs as leading the way was senior libero Holland Guilliams as she produced 12 to win the final district title of her career. Gannon finished second behind Guilliams in digs with eight of her own, while senior defensive specialists Grace Newell and Charlee Koepp each had five.
“There was definitely pressure on us to win it this year, as there has been the last couple years getting the No. 1 seed,” Indians head coach Dave Mirly said. “That speaks volumes for our program that we’ve been able to have such great seasons to earn the top seed and then follow through.
“It comes back to how hard these ladies work in practice every single day all the way back starting with their club seasons to the summer and the regular season. They’ve put a lot of time into it, and it seems like everything comes full circle on championship day. It’s an awesome feeling.”
Even though Jackson didn’t lose a set in this matchup with the Tigers or at all through the Class 5 District 1 Tournament, the Indians were thankful for a battle with Oakville (14-12-2) that was actually tied 22-all in the first set. Jackson beat the Tigers 2-1 in the Gateway Match Up Tournament Sept. 23 and then 3-0 on the road Oct. 5.
“Oakville really played great against us — Going into the game, it was, ‘How is this game going to unfold?’” Coach Mirly said. “Oakville would not let us go on long runs, served really aggressive against us and got us out of system a lot. That forced our girls to have a close game and opportunities to not play — to lose and to fail.
“We acted the right way and like we do in practice all the time — we turn things around and that’s what we did out there. We made sure we stayed positive and continued to make plays. … We feed off of their mistakes and won that third set a little bit easier.”
A player like Domian has been truly impressive to Coach Mirly as he said she’s currently playing the best volleyball of her life. Ella recorded a hitting percentage above .348 in each of her team’s three matches in the district tournament.
Domian currently has the highest hitting percentage for Jackson out of any player with at least 200 kill attempts at .387 and sits at 308 kills. Wasilewski has the most kills for the Indians with 326 (.294 hitting percentage), while St. John is right behind her at 321 (.300).
“Every time Ella is touching the volleyball, it’s either a point for us or a great swing,” Coach Mirly said. “It’s just been outstanding what she’s been able to do the last three games.”
St. John and Wasilewski both reached 1,000 career digs this season as Katy did so back in the Jackson Tournament on Oct. 7, while Nadia eclipsed the mark in a 3-0 win over Northwest last week on Oct. 17. They are both the first players in Jackson volleyball history to record 1,000 kills.
One position on the court that has exceeded Coach Mirly’s expectations this season has been at setter, where Gannon and Wessell have combined for 984 assists with 535 and 449, respectively.
While the Indians have dominated their district over the past five years, something they have yet to do is make it to state. Jackson has fallen to the eventual state champions the last two seasons and will either face Lafayette Wildwood (32-2) or Marquette (30-5) on Saturday at home in the Event Center.
Besides hosting the game on its home court, Jackson also enters the game with having the advantage of having played both teams already. The Indians lost both of these matches 2-0, but Coach Mirly has faith in his squad as they’ve shown “no fear” all fall.
“This group does not fear anybody — Nadia, Holland and Ella really have that killer instinct about them,” Mirly said. “We’ve not been intimidated by anyone.”