GLADSTONE - Prior to Saturday, no team had won the "The Rock" Invitational volleyball tournament three consecutive years.
The Houghton Gremlins, however, changed that Saturday by outlasting the Marquette Redettes 2-1 (24-26, 25-12, 25-21) for their third straight title.
With the victory came the retirement of the tournament's first rock, which will now make permanent residence in Houghton. A new rock will be present for next year's tourney.
"In some ways this is the most satisfying of the three in that we set a goal to become the first team to win it three times in a row," said Houghton coach John Christianson. "To achieve that is particularly satisfying for the girls."
Houghton senior Blaire Zenner collected 15 kills and two blocks in the championship match, including two straight kills for a 22-17 advantage in the deciding set.
Senior Mackenzie Hietala recorded 22 digs and senior Natalie Datto had 27 assists.
Junior Jada Riutta had four aces and just one kill. But her kill came at the end of the third set, adding an exclamation point to Houghton's title.
Riutta's aces took place during a nine-point service run in the second set, enabling the Gremlins to gain a 13-4 advantage.
"We kind of lived and died by our serving today," said Christianson. "I think Jada's service run put Marquette on its heels and gave us momentum. Then, Mackenzie hit four in a row that gave us the lead in the third set. The two kids (Zenner and Hietala) who made the all-tournament team really stepped up in the third set.
"Between the first and second set, we talked about the difference of playing to win and playing not to lose. We played tentatively in the first set. Then, we came out on fire in the second set and were able to sustain it. I think we caught Marquette a little off balance."
The Gremlins reached the title match with a 2-0 (25-14, 27-25) triumph over Escanaba.
Marquette topped Gwinn 27-25, 25-22 in the other semifinal.
"Marquette had a couple incredible hustle points," said Christianson. "We knew they weren't going to let the ball go to the floor. They took advantage of some things we weren't doing very well."
In pool play, Houghton beat Rapid River (25-11, 25-9), Marquette (25-21, 25-18), Norway (25-17, 25-21) and split with Ishpeming (25-21, 23-25).
The Gremlins host Calumet in a key WestPAC Conference match Thursday.
Hancock missed a semifinal berth on a tie-breaker, finishing 5-3 in pool play.
The Bulldogs topped Gladstone (25-22, 25-21), then split with Westwood (23-25, 25-18) and bowed to Esky (25-16, 25-15) prior to beating Gwinn (25-21, 25-22).
"In our match against Escanaba, we fell apart and it cost us," said Hancock coach Kristan Schuster. "We were 0-4-1 coming into this tournament, but we got two big wins today. We've come a long way since the Kingsford tournament (on Aug. 18). Our execution on hitting is where we've probably shown the most improvement. The girls work hard and are gaining confidence. We're just lacking experience at this point."
Hancock's second set with Gwinn was tied at 19. But a sideout sent the Bulldogs ahead to stay and they gained a 21-19 lead on a kill by senior Lily Williams.
The Bulldogs, who then secured the decision on a hitting error, visit Calumet Tuesday.