CALUMET - Barely a week into the 2012 high school volleyball season, and the Calumet Copper Kings already have much to be proud about.
Of course, coach Lisa Twardzik's experienced group will not be resting on its August laurels, though they include the Kingsford Invitational championship and a runner-up finish against a field of mostly Class A and B schools at the Cadillac Invite last week.
"I think it just shows the great character on the team, senior leadership and lots of quality players," Twardzik said of her team's success.
Calumet’s Kayleen Anderson sets the ball as Ellen Twardzik approaches during a 2011 match. The Copper Kings, who won the Kingsford Invitational and finished second in the Cadillac Invite, host West Iron County Tuesday night. (DMG photo by Brandon Veale)
One example of the team's resolve came when facing a 23-17 deficit against McBain in pool play at Cadillac. Calumet's well aware of the strength of the McBain program - the teams met in Class C quarterfinals in 2007 and 2009 - but the Kings took eight straight points and the set off the Ramblers.
Calumet, which opens WestPAC play with a Tuesday home match against West Iron County, has the luxury of multiple hitters with three years of varsity experience in Kristy Lasanen and Grace Hyrkas, plus a returning setter in Kayleen Anderson who has already made major strides from her junior year.
"Not only do they have the skill, but they have the head for the game," Twardzik said. "They have a better grasp of anticipating where the ball's going to be and where they're going to place the ball on offense."
Anderson sharpened her skills playing club volleyball in the spring. Twardzik said she also provides strength at the net despite not having typical hitter's size.
"She sees the floor very well and does a nice job of balancing our offensive attack," she said.
In addition to those, a major weapon returns to Calumet's side of the floor in sophomore middle hitter Ellen Twardzik (Lisa's niece). She was cleared to return to action a few weeks ago after suffering an ACL tear in January.
A trio of newcomers is trying to stake its claim to the spot opposite Ellen Twardzik in the Calumet rotation: juniors Loretta Anderson, Alisa Storm and Pam Torola.
Senior Molly Loukus has shown promise early in the season at the right-side hitter spot and has also faced a challenge for playing time from sophomore Terilyne Budreau.
In the back row, Calumet returns an all-WestPAC libero in Terra Erkkila. Both tiny and tenacious, she will also be joined in the back row by newcomers Katherine Frantti and Lexie Rowe.
"It's a nice competitive spirit among those three for that position," coach Twardzik said.
Megan Yeo and Meghan Westcott will also see time on serve-receive duty, while Selena Stromer and Cady Sever will find their place in the Kings' scheme upon their return from injury.
With their returning experience, the Kings look like a favorite to regain a WestPAC crown they last held in 2009, but they won't be underestimating the opposition or shirking their responsibilities to build on the early success.
"We know that we're going to have to account for Houghton and Hancock. Kristan (Schuster)?will certainly have her team ready by districts and Houghton always has a strong draw from their JV," coach Twardzik said. "I think that we take pride in making sure that we're ready and prepared."