While doing research for the regional volleyball preview article we ran earlier this week, I couldn't help but notice history.
Less than 10 years ago, U.P. volleyball teams did not cross the bridge for postseason competition.
Now, at least one Copper Country team has reached the quarterfinals every year since the season was switched to fall in 2007.
There's still a ways to go, but I look forward to a day when I don't have to explain hitting percentage.
We're getting closer to that day, as evidenced by some sizable crowds at big matches I've been to this year.
Some day, I hope to make a vote for an All-U.P. poll and team, whether it be within the U.P. Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association or some other panel.
Exciting week of hockey coming up in the WCHA before everyone goes into the woods for the firearm deer season opener Monday. Minnesota is the only team sitting out this weekend.
Michigan Tech at Minn. Duluth
As mentioned before, the Huskies have traditionally played well at the DECC. Don't know if it's the smaller ice sheet, the manageable trip or just plain luck, but everything will change after this series, Tech's last in the old barn before UMD moves to AMSOIL Arena in December. Duluth got a split at North Dakota last weekend. Though it remains to be seen how two off weeks in three weeks will affect Tech this weekend, I'll pick Tech to take some points home.
The Verdict: UMD 4-2 Friday, Tech 2-1 Saturday
Nebraska-Omaha at St. Cloud St.
The Mavericks are getting all of their fun road trips out of the way early. First, they played their inaugural WCHA series at Mariucci Arena, then enjoyed a non-conference jaunt to that den of civility and decorum known as Yost Arena in Ann Arbor. Next up, beautiful St. Cloud, Minn. It's like a cruise, only with hockey. Speaking of cruise, that's exactly what UNO has done in the early going, sweeping its first two league series. I like that streak to end here. SCSU has had a mixed record (the Other Huskies split with Bemidji State last weekend), but the National Hockey Center proves to be one tough trip too many for UNO.
The Verdict: SCSU sweeps 5-4, 5-2
North Dakota at Wisconsin
It doesn't get too much better than this week's series between the No. 10 Fighting Sioux and No. 13 Badgers. As would be expected for teams off to good starts, both teams are getting serious production. North Dakota's senior forward Matt Frattin is tied for third in the country with eight goals in his first 10 games, while Wisconsin freshman Mark Zengerle is tied for second nationally with 13 assists in 10 games. When forces like that collide, it's a pretty unpredictable event, so I'll cop out and pick the split.
The Verdict: UW 6-4 Friday, ND 3-2 Saturday
Alaska Anchorage at Bemidji St.
Good news Bemidji! Not every visitor to your shiny Sanford Center is going to be a world-beater. Sometimes you get teams like 1-5-2 Alaska Anchorage. The Seawolves haven't won since the opening weekend of the season, and that was against Air Force. Conference play has yielded just a single point from a home game against Minnesota State the last time they were in action, on Oct. 30. As for BSU, it will take its first league win Saturday in overtime at St. Cloud and build on it with two more.
The Verdict: BSU sweep 3-1, 4-2
Minnesota State at Denver
Good news out of Denver, where injured forward Jesse Martin has walked around his hospital room just over a week after fracturing three neck vertebrae in a game Nov. 30 at North Dakota. Good news for the Pioneers, too, who can put Saturday's disastrous road trip to Colorado Springs (9-2 loss at Colorado College) behind them without having to play another road game this month. DU plays the first of three straight home weekends against a Minnesota State team on the third of four straight road series. The Mavericks didn't look good getting swept in Omaha and I don't see things getting better in the near future.
The Verdict: DU sweep 6-3, 4-1
CC at Air Force, Yale at CC
At high altitude, CC takes on some high flyers, then hosts some high society. Considering CC has both scored and allowed nine goals in a game in the last two weeks, you could certainly say consistency is an issue with the Tigers. Air Force has two wins on the season, so if CC doesn't play well Friday, it might be able to get away with it, but snoozing through the game against No. 3 Yale could lead to another nine-goal night.
The Verdict: CC over Air Force 5-3, Yale over CC 4-1
Last Week: 5-4-1
For the Season: 24-20-4 (54.2 percent)
Until then, I'll write what I know based on eyeball observations and game stories, which should be just enough to get me in trouble.
Let's start a tradition - the Daily Mining Gazette All-Area Team. I don't have anything but recognition to offer, not even a snazzy certificate. But hopefully some day, they can say they were a part of history.
A super crop of seniors came up through the ranks this year, with three of them forming the core of an excellent team at Houghton High School.
Setting the scene is Frances Kallio, who paced the Gremlins to their first district championship in seven years and an undefeated run through the WestPAC. She had a lot of options of attackers to set to, including middle Ellie LeSatz and outside hitter Rachel Crane.
LeSatz continued an impressive serving streak with six in a row and four straight aces to close out Iron Mountain in the Class C regional semifinals Tuesday night.
Crane also deserves special recognition for overcoming a major knee injury suffered late in the 2009-10 girls' basketball season.
Across the canal in Hancock, senior middle Maria Almquist recently concluded a stellar volleyball career that included more than 1,000 kills and was named the WestPAC's player of the year.
But she wasn't the Bulldogs' only threat. Fellow WestPAC first teamer Dinah Bekkala, at outside hitter, is the only junior selected. When called upon to step up in Almquist's absence, Bekkala responded with a 20-kill night in a sweep against Chassell.
Libero means 'free' in Italian, but Calumet libero Abby Junttila made the Copper Kings' opponents earn every kill they got.
The Mountain Lakes Conference shall not be ignored, as league MVP Molly Monette of Lake Linden-Hubbell, a senior outside hitter, is a more than deserving addition to the first team.
The All-Area second team is a diverse group from seven schools and three counties in the area: Hancock junior Lucy Storm, Lake Linden-Hubbell senior Ashley Byykkonen, Chassell senior Mara Ryynanen, Baraga sophomore Brittany Nieskes, Ontonagon senior Taylor Cleary, Houghton junior Joey Carroll and Calumet senior Emilly Liimatta.
Like I said, I've probably started a few fires here - like I said, I think I've learned just enough about volleyball to get into trouble. But hopefully that fire will spread throughout the U.P. and start a warm future in U.P. volleyball.
Brandon Veale can be reached at email@example.com.