BARAGA - The Baraga volleyball team needed this one badly.
After struggling enormously last season in five-set matches, the Vikings went the distance against Chassell Tuesday and took the 3-2 victory (25-20, 25-21, 21-25, 21-25, 15-8) for their first Mountain Lakes Conference win of the season.
Baraga coach Peggy Reinsch estimated the Vikings won just one five-set match all last year and at one point lost at least five five-setters in a row.
Baraga junior middle hitter MacKenzie Keefer puts down a kill in the second set against Chassell Tuesday. Keefer was second on the team with six kills. (DMG photo by Michael Bleach)
"I can't remember the last time that we won a five-set match," Reinsch said. "We might have won one last year. But we had a string where I think we lost five or six five-set matches in a row. It was deadly.
"This win will be great for us."
The Vikings set the tone early with a string of strong serving and serve receive.
Baraga served up four aces in the first game and six in the second to take a quick 2-0 lead.
The serving prowess was aided with consistent back line defense, led by senior libero Taylor Tervo.
"I told them after the first game that I saw them moving as a unit," Reinsch said of her back line. "Everyone was where they were supposed to be, not a lot of standing around and watching the ball. I saw a lot better team movement and team communication. We covered our block really well."
Senior outside hitter Rebecca Larson led the Vikings with six aces on the day and three in a row to start the second set.
The serve receive problems troubled Chassell coach Gael Filpus from the beginning.
"Holy cats, yes. That was an issue," Filpus said. "We weren't quite awake yet. By the third game we started coming around."
Led by a strong performance from middle hitter Madeline Huhta (11 kills), Chassell bounced back to lead the third and fourth sets from start to finish, setting up the fifth set that plagued Baraga so much last season.
Larson was determined to keep last year's problems in the past, however.
The Baraga senior captain started the final game off with an ace and then added two more kills at points nine and ten - Larson had 13 kills for the match - to build a three-point cushion.
"She is the rock," Reinsch said. "She is a real heads-up player and is just a big anchor for the team She understands when to take the big swing and when to try something else. She has a good eye for what the defense is doing."
Reinsch was particularly impressed with her team's mental aptitude in the final set. Nothing was forced - the smart play took precedent over the big kill.
"We just played smart - fought to live another day," Reinsch said. "I told them: When you get that great set, take some chances and take a swing at that ball. But when you don't get that great set, you can't go pounding those. And they are heads-up enough to make a different play on the ball."