HANCOCK - After looking collected and composed in a 3-0 victory against Northland International last week, the Finlandia volleyball team displayed the other side of the coin Tuesday for their unique situation.
With new head coach Tim Minor coming to FU just two weeks ago, the Lions volleyball program returned only four players from last years team to the current squad. So Minor filled out the rest of the roster with other Finlandia athletes - mostly softball - and any local freshman interested in continuing her volleyball career.
While the team looked sharp against Northland International, the Lions struggled with Northland College (Wis.) Tuesday. Finlandia fell 3-0 (25-11, 25-14, 25-15) in their second home match of the year.
Finlandia’s Lindsey Usitalo dives for a serve Tuesday against Northland College. Finlandia gave up 20 aces in a 3-0 loss. (DMG photo by Michael Bleach)
Finlandia sophomore Brierra Ruska passes from the back row. Ruska is one of several softball players who have joined the volleyball team. (DMG photo by Michael Bleach)
"Our emotions definitely go up and down," Minor said. "Last week, they were up. Today, we got behind early and they were down."
Northland's devastating serving attack was most responsible for the Lions' struggles.
Northland senior outside hitter Gabby Jukkala, a Baraga High School alum, led the way with eight aces for the day - including six in an 11-point run in the first set - and NC put together 20 total aces for the match.
"(Serve receive) killed us. It just killed us," Minor said. "They have an ace, stud server in (Gabby Jukkala) and the runs they went on just really hurt us. And then we were putting some serves right into the net and having to face more all over again. Their pace and our serve receive, it was just error after error tonight.
"I know what we are going to be working on in practice now."
The lack of confidence in serve receive translated to basic passing issues.
Lions freshman setter Lucy Storm was constantly running into the back row and as a result Finlandia was not able to set up middle hitters Emma Cole or Augustine Brutus or outside hitters Brierra Ruska or Lindsey Usitalo.
"Now that we have a full team we can work on the things that we need to work on," Minor said. "We can go up from here."
The ups and downs will be expected from a team that is still trying to gel so many new players - some of whom haven't played volleyball for over a year.
According to Ruska - a four-sport athlete at Finlandia, who also plays soccer, softball and basketball - keeping practices and games fun will be crucial for the Lions success.
"If it is not fun, no one is going to want to do it anymore," Ruska said. "The more fun everyone is having the more successful everyone will be."
Even though the addition of volleyball to an already loaded schedule as kept Ruska busier than ever - "I have no free time I must like playing ball," she said. - the sophomore out of Superior Central High School said it was a no-brainer for many of her softball teammates to join up when athletic director Chris Salani and softball coach Shawn Hendrickson came calling.
"We need these programs to be kept afloat, and it is just another competitive sport to be involved in," Ruska said. "We are all proud of Finlandia and want to help out however we can."