HANCOCK - There are many ballplayers in the Riutta family, of which Houghton junior Jada Riutta is one. Any ballplayer knows sometimes it's not the flamethrower that gets the outs but the soft-tossing lefty.
Riutta wasn't blowing Chassell away with her serves in their Class C district volleyball semifinal, but the lefty kept getting the points as the Gremlins put away the Panthers 3-0 (25-15, 25-12, 25-17) Monday.
Riutta served major runs for the Gremlins in each set of the sweep, putting the ball into play so a strong rotation of Blaire Zenner, Natalie Datto and Emma Huhta in the front row and defenders Mackenzie Hietala and Bronwyn Nettell could make plays around her.
Houghton’s Jada Riutta attacks a Chassell double block during Monday’s Class C?district volleyball semifinal as teammate Blaire Zenner looks on. The Gremlins won 3-0. (DMG photo by Brandon Veale)
"She serves tough enough that it's hard for the other team to get a strong attack, which often means we get a strong attack," Houghton coach John Christianson said.
Houghton was strong all around in a businesslike performance that propelled it to Thursday's final against Calumet.
"I thought we came out and just played solid, which is what we wanted. It's tournaments. Nerves are present, let's just stick with what we do well," Christianson said.
Houghton led 3-2 in the opener when Riutta's turn came up. None of her six attempts ended in aces, but three led to kills from Zenner and a 9-2 lead.
With the Panthers creeping back into it at 16-11, Houghton got the serve back on an error, then handed it to Riutta, who helped Houghton tack on three more points for an insurmountable 20-11 advantage.
In the second, Chassell had an early 8-7 edge. The Gremlins took an 11-9 lead after three points and an ace from Hietala, then Riutta helped Houghton slam the door as the Gremlins put up 10 in a row for a 22-9 edge.
Christianson said the Hietala rotation was just as important, if not more, than Riutta's 10 straight.
"We finally had enough of a cushion we could just relax," he said.
Chassell, which competes in Class C in volleyball by virtue of its co-operative with Jeffers, lacked the weapons to keep up and had an off night mentally, coach Gael Filpus said.
"Our girls aren't used to following their hitters," Filpus said. "It cost us several points - mental lapses at the wrong times. There wasn't much aggressiveness or intensity."
The Panthers also ran into a strong night defensively for Houghton, which had 14 digs from Hietala, 10 from Nettell and nine from Datto.
"She was putting the ball right to Natalie, with good height, which allows us to run offense," Christianson said of Hietala, the senior libero, who made 27 perfect passes.
In the third set, Riutta had another three serves in a row as Houghton went up 5-2. Five- and three-point bursts in later rotations made it 15-5 and gave Christianson a chance to work in some reserves.
Despite less than three sets of action, Zenner racked up 11 kills, plus two blocks and two aces. Datto finished with 21 assists.
For Chassell, Kaitlyn Hietala had five kills, Kirsten Daavettila four and Jamie Dompier and Maddie Huhta three apiece. Lexi Pyykkonen recorded 17 assists. Defensively, Dompier and Hietala, both seniors, led with 10 and seven digs, respectively.