The Eagles have landed -- and they're perched atop the Michigan Independent Athletic Conference's Blue Division.
Plymouth Christian Academy's volleyball team posted one of its most significant victories in recent memory Thursday, ousting visiting Oakland Christian in a roller-coaster-like five-game thriller that featured two of the conference's top front-row stars.
Led by junior middle-blocker Kristin Malcolm's 29 kills, the Eagles rallied to win a back-and-forth battle, 25-15, 15-25, 21-25, 25-19, 15-7.
Sophomore Darcy Johnston sparked the Lancers' valiant effort.
The Eagles improved to 17-6-2 overall and 5-0 in the division. The loss was the Lancers' first division setback this fall.
"This win was huge," said PCA coach Kelly Blackney. "To rise to first place in the conference like we've done is something that hasn't been done here in several years. It's important, too, because we may see them in the Regional, so it's nice to know we can play with them."
In addition to the high-level skill the Eagles displayed, Blackney was impressive by a vital intangible her team possessed.
"We played with a level of intensity we normally don't play with," she said. "Especially in the first and last game. We also made smart decisions on offense tonight, putting the ball in places they weren't covering."
The Eagles were backed by a huge student cheering section whose support was appreciated by the players.
"It is so encouraging to have them behind us like that," said junior captain Amy Zinn, an outside hitter who also delivered a stirring rendition of the National Anthem prior to the match. "They help build our momentum and intensity. I've never seen anything like it at other schools.
"I love this school. We support one another no matter what."
Malcolm Johnston were both spectacular, providing their respective teams with front-row firepower.
Neither player left the court during the two-hour-plus match that swung back and forth like an out-of-control pendulum.
Sparked by the pin-point serving of Jessica Rich, PCA vaulted to an 11-1 lead in game one and never looked back. Rich's serves sparked an early 8-0 run that set the tempo in the opener.
The Lancers turned the tables in game two, breaking open a close game with a 7-2 run that extended a 12-8 lead into a 19-10 bulge.
Oakland maintained the momentum throughout game three, using an early 7-1 streak to seize the lead for good. Rebecca VanSloten teamed up with Johnston to give the Lancers' a strong one-two hitting punch.
With their backs to the wall, the Eagles came out firing in game four, riding strong play from senior setter Brianna Harris, Malcolm and Zinn to a 25-19 triumph.
"During the fourth game, we decided that we were playing for God's glory and that we needed to put it all out there," Zinn said. "We played the best game of our lives."
The Eagles never trailed in game five, pulling away with an 8-0 run after the game was knotted at 3-3. Leading 6-3, Abby Bartes hit the floor hard to keep the point alive before Malcolm finished it with an emphatic kill.
Bartes served eight straight points, one of which led to a no-doubter kill by sky-walking senior middle Folake Olojo.
Bartes, the Eagles' libero, enjoyed a stellar night, recording 13 digs and 17 service points.
In addition to her 29 kills, Malcolm registered four blocks and 17 service points.
Also shining for the winners were Olojo (nine kills, four blocks), Zinn (seven digs, 17 service points, four aces), Harris (35 assists, 17 service points) and Jennifer Malcolm (six blocks).
Ed Wright can be reached at (734) 453-1980 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
PCA's Folake Olojo hammers home a kill during the Eagles' game one victory. (Ed Wright photo)
The Eagles were backed by a super-loud student cheering section. (Ed Wright photo)
Abby Bartes digs out a ball during PCA's critical game four victory. (Ed Wright photo)
The Malcolm sisters -- Kristin (6) and Jennifer -- elevate for a block. (Ed Wright photo)