HANCOCK - Playing in a hostile gym, Houghton controlled most of the momentum against rival Hancock in WestPAC volleyball, and thus, the final outcome, a 3-0 (25-22, 25-17, 25-16) sweep.
"When I look at the big picture, I felt much of the time we were in control, but I've seen Hancock enough that I know that they're capable of going on incredible runs," Houghton coach John Christianson said.
Capable, yes, but the Gremlins made it very difficult to gain the upper hand. A big factor in that was senior middle hitter Blaire Zenner, who finished with eight kills, two blocks and four aces, many of them in a service run early in the third that ensured her team would rise to 18-5-2 (3-1 WestPAC).
Houghton’s Blaire Zenner (5)?and Emma Huhta (17)?put up a double block against an attack by Hancock’s Taylor Mattson during the third set of Thursday’s WestPAC?volleyball match at Hancock. The Gremlins swept the contest 3-0. (DMG photo by Brandon Veale)
"Winning this one means a lot. This is a conference game, and we need as many wins as we can, and this is a preview for the Copper Spike," Zenner said.
The Copper Spike match between the two schools will be Oct. 18 at Houghton.
Hancock's comparative size disadvantage made shutting down middles Zenner and Elisa Jurmu, who finished with four kills, difficult.
"If they got a good pass, we knew we were hurting a little bit," coach Kristan Schuster said.
Hancock scored the first two points, only to fall behind after committing five straight errors. The Bulldogs took the lead back at 11-10 on five straight points from Taylor Mattson's serve, only for Houghton to come right back with five of its own.
Houghton called timeout with its lead cut to 20-19, only for Zenner to deliver a kill on the next point. The Bulldogs never tied it, and the next two sets weren't as close.
Houghton put together five straight points on Zenner's serve early in the second for a 9-3 lead it grew as large as 16-7 before cruising to the finish line.
In the third, Zenner banged out a handful of aces as the Gremlins turned a 6-4 deficit into an 11-7 lead, the followed it up two rotations later with four more points to go up 16-8.
"I think part of it was just her intensity and focus. She set a standard for the rest of the players to come up to. She was very focused tonight on what we needed to do on the floor," Christianson said. "She served great, she served aggressively and got us some big runs when we needed it. She got us some big kills when we absolutely had to have a big kill."
Natalie Datto posted 19 assists in the win, while three players had double-digit digs: Mackenzie Hietala (18), Bronwyn Nettell (13) and Sydney Dillinger (12).
For Hancock, Mattson and Lily Williams had six kills apiece. Katelyn Anderson had a team-best 15 digs, Jen Hannon added 13 and Nicole Anderson dished out 20 assists.
Both teams are entered in Saturday's Marquette Invitational.