HOUGHTON - Houghton showed it still has a stranglehold on the Copper Spike Thursday, retaining the prize with a 3-0 (25-14, 25-23, 25-19) home victory over Hancock.
Houghton kept it straightforward, starting in the middle with a dominant performance from senior Blaire Zenner, who had eight kills and six block kills.
"Blaire really came to play tonight. She just really stepped up," Houghton coach John Christianson said. "She took the challenge of the Copper Spike and decided she was going to play."
Houghton’s Jada Riutta serves during the first set of Thursday’s Copper Spike match against Hancock. (DMG photo by Brandon Veale)
Zenner also had two aces. It may not look like much, but there were several more serves that Hancock got two hands to, but couldn't do much more than that.
"There were a couple times she went back there and she was serving downhill and they were really having a tough time."
Hancock has just two seniors and coach Kristan Schuster has said much of the regular season will be more about improvement than results. The Bulldogs got the former, but not the latter Thursday.
"We're improving slowly but surely. Height-wise, we're really short, so we have to work on smart placement. We did some of it at times, but we didn't execute it well tonight," she said.
Hancock had its chances, particularly late in the second set and early in the third, but still hasn't found a high enough gear with its offense, led by seven kills from senior Katelyn Anderson.
A pair of Bronwyn Nettell aces anchored a six-point run to give the Gremlins a 15-6 lead early in the first set. Lily Williams responded with two aces in a row for the visitors, but it would be the only time Hancock strung three points together in the set. Houghton had another four-point run in there to make it 23-12, then finished it on a double block from Elisa Jurmu and Emma Binkley.
Hancock was in the second set throughout, using back-to-back Jen Hannon aces to close within 16-15, but Houghton put five more together on the serve of lefty Jada Riutta. The lead grew to 24-18, but the Gremlins couldn't put the Bulldogs away, losing five straight set points on their own errors.
"Second set, we were just holding on. Hancock raised the level of their game and we got tentative," Christianson said.
With Hancock a point away from evening the set, the Gremlins finally got a chance to run their offense and got a tip kill from No. 2, Jurmu, for a 2-0 lead.
However, Houghton didn't snap out of it with the third set, losing the first four points. Riutta's consistent serving, plus a pair of blocks from the front row, pushed Houghton back in front.
"We came out in that third set the way I wanted them to, and I was hoping the momentum from that second game would carry through into that one. We just didn't hang on to it," Schuster said.
Hancock took another brief lead near the midway point, but Houghton erased it with five straight to go up 18-14 and rode it to the finish line, winning the match on a Hancock hitting error.
"We had 27 hitting errors tonight and nine service errors. That's huge right there in itself in a three-set match," Schuster said.
Hannon led Hancock with 10 digs. The Bulldogs host league champion Calumet Tuesday night.
Houghton got a team-best 12 digs from Sydney Dillinger. Mackenzie Hietala added 10 and Natalie Datto had 12 assists. Houghton (34-10-5, 5-2 WestPAC) is at West Iron County Tuesday night.