HANCOCK - With a tumultuous season coming soon to a close, Finlandia interim volleyball coach Tim Minor saw the silver lining that gives hope to the Lions program next year.
FU knocked off Gogebic Community College 3-2 (21-25, 25-19, 15-25, 25-22, 15-13) in its penultimate match of the season, taking the back-and-forth five setter despite separate deficits of six and four points in the decisive final set. The victory - only the second of the season for Finlandia - came after the Lions lost a five-setter to Gogebic Sept. 26.
Finlandia middle hitter Augustine Brutus takes a swing Tuesday against Gogebic Community College at Paavo Nurmi Gym in Hancock. The Lions won in five sets. (DMG photo by Michael Bleach)
"You saw it earlier at home this year when we lost to (Northland College), that if we get down we tend to stay down and that wasn't the case today," Minor said. "We kept battling even when we were down a set or down in the fifth there."
The Lions trailed 7-1 to open the final set, and after mounting a furious comeback to take an 8-7 lead, somehow found themselves down 13-9 again.
Still, FU didn't wilt under the pressure and kills from sophomore Laura Sponhauer and senior Lindsey Usitalo (a Lake Linden native), put enough pressure on Gogebic to start forcing errors.
GCC mishit the last four points to give Finlandia the win.
"We stayed tough," Minor said. "It was the last home game ever for (Lauren Jarvinen) and (Usitalo) and it's great to come out with a win."
Several tactical adjustments from the second set on made the difference in Minor's mind. After starting the initial set with Jarvinen as the solo setter, Minor moved freshman Lucyann Storm back into the role for the final four games.
He also adjusted the hitters with freshman Emma Cole moving from middle to outside and sophomore Sponhauer played front and back row instead of a her usual front rotation.
Cole led the Lions with 12 kills (and three block kills) while Sponhaer recorded five kills over the final three sets.
"Laura did a great job today, she was active, she hit really well," Minor said. "I think getting her involved in both rows today really helped her stay aggressive."
Aside from a rough third set - where the Lions gave up six aces - the serve receive also improved from the loss last time to Gogebic.
Abigail Ryskey possessed a devastating jump serve but was only able to really get on a roll in the third-set win.
With sharper passing, Storm was able to choose from Cole, Sponhaer, Usitalo and middle hitter Augustine Brutus on the attack.
"For the most part, we did do a better job today," Minor said. "That (Ryskey) really moves the ball around well. She could target all six zones, drop it in, hit the line, do it all."
Finlandia travels to Dunbar, Wis., in one week for their its match of the season with Northland International, whom the Lions have a 1-2 record against this season.
After that, Finlandia will open the head coaching job for an official search, one Minor will be applying for.
"I think they are looking to fill it pretty quickly, because whoever gets it is going to have to start recruiting immediately," Minor said. "A Division III program should have 18 girls on the roster (Finlandia at times had 13 this year) and that is a lot of spots to fill. But I think we have made good progress this year."