CRYSTAL FALLS - When North Dickinson and Forest Park meet on the gridiron here Friday night, it will be the second regional trophy up for grabs between the two rival schools in as many nights.
That's because the Trojans and Nordics volleyball teams have a score to settle first.
Forest Park earned a 25-20, 18-25, 25-22, 27-25 win over a persistent Lake Linden-Hubbell here Tuesday, and North Dickinson claimed a 25-23, 16-25, 27-25, 25-13 decision over Engadine to set up the Class D Region 32 final for Thursday at 6 p.m.
"It's always a bitter-to-the-end, chomp-it-out-to-the-last-point rivalry," Trojans head coach Kim Bjork said of facing the Nordics. "We end up seeing each other four of five times a year. We know each other really well. We're just going to have to find a way to beat them."
After riding freshmen middle Alexis Gussert's power spike for a large lead in the first set, Forest Park nearly lost a nine-point lead late against Lake Linden. The Trojans held on, but couldn't capture the momentum in set two.
And by set three, the Trojans found themselves in a real tug-of-war with the Lakes.
"We knew that they were going to be scrappy and hustle and cover every ball," Bjork said. "Lake Linden dug just about everything. It was a fun match. They're always covering the floor well. We knew it wasn't going to be a 3-0 match, but our girls fought through it, all the way to the end."
Lakes held a 16-13 advantage in what was an extremely tight set three, before an 8-1 run put the Trojans ahead. Mindy DeNell delivered two aces during the push, and consecutive kills by Kaitlin Shamion and Tanner Bartczak made it 22-17 Trojans.
But the Lakes fired back, with sophomore middle Amanda Perreault taking charge. She ripped off five straight points with two solo blocks and three kills to knot the set 22-22.
A kill by Bartczak followed by a tip by Gussert and a Lakes' hitting error delivered the clutch set to the Trojans.
"It was a well-played match," Lakes coach Karen Keranen said. "It comes to down to who makes fewer mistakes. We had a couple lapses here and there. They were heady mistakes. And then when they get a run, it's hard to get back."
Set four was 9-9 when Forest Park reeled off five straight points. Shamion and Gussert combined on a block, while Ana Cornelia and Gussert provided kills. Bartczak then added an ace. The cushion held until late when, once again, the Lakes came roaring back.
The Trojans were up 24-18 but couldn't find an answer for Molly Monette. The senior hitter came up with a block of Gussert twice and a kill while the Trojans misfired on a few other attempts.
An ace by Bailey Codere put the Lakes ahead 25-24. But Gussert responded with another smartly played tip kill and teamed up with DeNell for a block on the next point. A Lakes' hit into the net ended the match.
"I'm very proud of my team," Keranen said. "It was a very good season for us. We hadn't been to regionals in four years. It was a very good accomplishment. It says a lot about my girls, especially my seniors."
Gussert led Forest Park with 21 kills and three blocks. Bartczak added 13 kills, and Audrey Sholander had nine. Courtney Lehto's nine digs led the team. Sholander had five digs.
"We had a tough match against Kingsford coming into this postseason," Bjork said. "That was a good warmup to get us ready. I know our district wasn't overly competitive, but we had some tough matches and it's not going to get easier. It only gets harder."
Monette finished with 15 kills, while Brittany Jutila added 12 and Perrault 10. Ashley Byykkonen was the Lakes' dig leader with 22, while Codere had 17, Megan Budweg 11 and Jutila 10. Perrault had six blocks and Monette four.