Tonight, two of the best volleyball teams in the Copper Country will continue their bids for regional championships, as Houghton takes on Rudyard in the Class C regional final at Lakeview Memorial Gym in Negaunee (7 p.m.) and Lake Linden-Hubbell meets Forest Park at Baraga High School (6 p.m.)
Though those teams have accomplished quite a bit, they had to walk a tough road to get there, because, as usual, this was another strong season for high school volleyball in the Copper Country.
For example, I present the thrilling Class C district final between Houghton and Calumet at Houghton High School. I know that there's a portion of our readership that may have never been to a volleyball match at any level and may never want to, but that was some classic theater.
How evenly matched were the Gremlins and Copper Kings? As was later brought to my attention by Houghton coach John Christianson, both sides won exactly half the points: 105 to 105, with only the arrangement of those points making the difference in a match that was decided by the minimum.
Four participants in that 'instant classic' lead off the second annual Daily Mining Gazette All-Area Team.
For the victorious Gremlins, the importance of senior middle Joey Carroll in that match and throughout the season cannot be overstated. Carroll had 21 kills in the district title match, including six in the decisive fifth set, and was named the WestPAC's most valuable player.
Nebraska-Omaha at Bemidji State
Some teams just have voodoo power over other teams. Take, for example, Nebraska Omaha, which had an excellent 2010-11 season, except for the six games it played against Bemidji State, of which it lost five and tied one, and got bounced from the WCHA playoffs to boot. UNO, which split at home against Colorado College, will try to make sure it doesn't carry over this weekend in Minnesota. The Beavers, who split at Lake Superior St. this weekend, have had mixed results in the early going, but I'll ride the hot hand.
The Verdict: BSU sweeps 4-2, 3-2
St. Cloud State at Minnesota State
Minnesota State goes from preparing for the Huskies to preparing for the Huskies this weekend. SCSU comes into Mankato after a three-point home weekend against Wisconsin. Though the Huskies have been bad (1-4-0) on the road thus far, Minnesota State has provided a fair amount of evidence to include that they're just bad.
The Verdict: SCSU sweeps 5-3, 5-1
Alaska-Anchorage at Minnesota Duluth
The Seawolves had a week off to think about a losing streak that has extended to four games (in none of which has UAA scored more than a goal). UMD is rolling, as a three-point weekend in Denver has extended its unbeaten streak to six. Pretty simple call here.
The Verdict: UMD sweeps 4-1, 2-0
Minnesota at Wisconsin
At No. 1 in the nation and the WCHA, the resurgence of the Golden Gophers is one of the biggest national stories in college hockey, well, outside Houghton at least. Minnesota swept North Dakota last weekend at Mariucci Arena, as goaltender Kent Patterson lowered his goals-against average to a miniscule 1.59. Wisconsin has been much better at home (4-2) than on the road (0-3-1), but I have to ride the hot hand here.
The Verdict: UMn sweeps, 3-0, 4-2
Colorado College at Denver (1 game)
Call it sportsmanship karma, but Denver hasn't won a game in four tries since laying the wood to MSU 10-2 two weeks ago. The Pioneers, on game three of a seven-game homestead, host a CC team this weekend that has cooled off a little bit with a road split at Nebraska-Omaha, but still looks pretty stout. Round one of the battle for the Gold Pan Trophy goes to the visitors.
The Verdict: CC wins 5-3
Last week: 7-3-2
For the season: 27-22-6 (54.5 percent)
Balancing her efforts on the outside is another senior, Taylor Dillinger, who stepped up nicely from a limited role as a junior to the league's first team in her final season.
Calumet libero Terra Erkkila is the smallest and one of the youngest players on this year's all-area team, having only completed her junior season, but she took over capably from another excellent Copper King defender, Abby Junttila, and anchored a defense that proved tough for even Houghton to break down.
In front of Erkkila was another junior, outside hitter Kristy Lasanen. Lasanen led her team in kills in two of three district tournament matches, averaging nearly 10 per match in the tournament.
It took all of Calumet's might to eliminate a Hancock team with two all-area selections when they met in a district semifinal at Calumet High School.
Both Lucy Storm and Dinah Bekkala have put in lots of hours with Hancock coach Kristan Schuster, and it showed, with Storm developing into one of, if not the most, talented and athletic setters in the area this season and Bekkala her go-to girl for hundreds of kills.
Rounding out the top group is another junior, Lake Linden-Hubbell's Mandy Perreault. The Mountain Lakes Conference MVP took over the regional semifinal against North Dickinson Tuesday night, leading the Lakes to what is already their deepest tourney run in four years.
On the second team: Hancock senior Taylor Murray, Houghton senior Genevieve Flaspohler, Lake Linden-Hubbell senior Alyssa Rickard and junior Brittni Kisul, Chassell seniors Lauretta Kangas and Victoria Vahakangas and Baraga senior Alex Mayo.
It's been a good season, and whether it continues beyond tonight or not, there's a lot of excitement for the future with several players on the list coming back for another season. So 2012 should be something worth writing about as well.
Brandon Veale can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.