CALUMET - Calumet took back the WestPAC volleyball championship Tuesday night, and one of the main reasons was because, when called, Molly Loukus took over.
The senior stepped in at setter after an injury to starter Kayleen Anderson in the early going, and directed the Copper Kings to a 3-0 (25-22, 25-20, 25-10) win over Houghton.
"It just showed great character in these players and how they handle adversity. That's why I coach is to build confidence in players and help them so they can perform later in life. They're going to be faced with tough situations just like this," Calumet coach Lisa Twardzik said.
Calumet’s Molly Loukus (12) sets the ball during the third set of Tuesday’s WestPAC?match against Houghton as, from left, Terilynne Budreau, Terra Erkkila and Kristy Lasanen look on. Loukus took over setting duties from Kayleen Anderson and had 33 assists in the 3-0 Calumet win. (DMG photo by Brandon Veale)
Anderson has been the starting setter for Calumet for nearly two seasons and Twardzik said Loukus isn't the primary back-up. However, the coach believed in what Loukus had to offer.
"She has always performed well as a utility. That high outside ball, she's always been good at. She's a smart player, and she's got a lot of guts. If you tell her we need her to step up, she will. Without hesitation."
Anderson twisted her left ankle with Calumet leading 9-5 in the first set. As the Copper Kings adjusted, losing three different points before they started for being out of rotation, Houghton held a small lead midway through the set.
One of Kristy Lasanen's 16 kills tied the set at 22. After a Houghton error, a Terra Erkkila ace and another Lasanen kill off the block, the Copper Kings were up one set to none.
"It took a little while (to adjust), but then I realized my team really needed me. I knew I had to step up, so I just focused on our whole team," Loukus said. She finished with 33 assists.
Houghton jumped out to a 5-2 lead early in the second before things settled into a neck-and-neck battle. Again, the Gremlins had the lead at the top of the homestretch, ahead 17-16, but Calumet responded with five straight points. Houghton cut the 21-17 deficit in half, but lost the next three points and later the set on a Terilynne Budreau kill.
"We had chances in both sets and both times our passing just kind of disappeared on us. We'd shank a couple of balls here and there. Shanking is an automatic point for them, but if you're free-balling it over or tipping it over, that's almost like an automatic point for them with the hitters that they've got," Houghton coach John Christianson said.
The third set got away from Houghton quickly. Calumet won 11 of the first 12 points, and though a momentary surge got the Gremlins to within 16-10 and prompted a timeout, Calumet then won the next nine in a row, with help from five kills from Lasanen and two from Budreau to close the door on the conference title with force.
"It feels amazing. I'm just so proud of our team how we all stepped it up especially after our setter went out. We all just worked really well together and pulled it off," Lasanen said.
Calumet took the league title after back-to-back Houghton crowns. Twardzik said her team wasn't thinking about the standings going in.
"We didn't even talk about it coming into this match. I didn't want to put any pressure on the girls. This rivalry is enough of a pressure match," she said.
For Houghton, a 2-0 win over Calumet Saturday in the final of their Gremlin Invitational seemed far away.
"The major difference was ball control. On Saturday, we controlled the ball well enough to keep them from running the diversity of their attack. Today we didn't. We gave them lots of free balls, we gave Terra Erkkila, who's a phenomenal libero, so many balls to pass to get their offense started. We just sent too many easy balls over because we weren't controlling the first contact," Christianson said.
Erkkila posted 20 digs to lead the Copper Kings, who host Lake Linden-Hubbell Thursday. Grace Hyrkas added 11.
Five Kings had at least six kills, including Ellen Twardzik and Lexie Rowe, who both had eight and Budreau and Loretta Anderson, who both had six.
For Houghton, Blaire Zenner had seven kills, four blocks and 12 digs. Elisa Jurmu added four kills, while Natalie Datto dished out 18 assists and added nine digs. Houghton hosts Hancock for the Copper Spike Thursday night.
Calumet won the JV match 2-0, while Houghton took the freshman match 2-0.