CRYSTAL FALLS - Forest Park, registering a sterling first set and doing just enough in the next two, swept Ewen-Trout Creek 3-0 (25-5, 25-12, 25-23) to capture the Class D District 127 volleyball title Thursday at Eddie Chambers Gymnasium.
"We came out playing strong," Forest Park coach Kim Bjork said. "We faltered in the second and third sets. Our energy level dropped in those sets.
"It wasn't our best match, but a win is a win and we will erase that performance from our memories."
E-TC's five first-set points came on Forest Park errors. While the Trojans' miscues continued early in the second set, the Panthers picked up their game and challenged in the third.
"It's always hard to play a team you haven't faced during the season," E-TC coach Jay Jurkovich said. "I think the girls were a little intimidated at first. It took them a while to realize they could play with these girls.
"You could see that they got more confident as the match went on. But unfortunately it was a little too late."
E-TC held a 23-22 lead in the third set. Forest Park then returned to form from the first set, with 15-year-old "birthday girl" Maria Stankewicz producing a tip kill and Lexi Gussert whacking the next two down.
"This team is capable of great things," Bjork said. "We just need to be more disciplined in all aspects of our game."
Gussert's 16 kills, 10 digs and five blocks powered the Trojans. Gina Graff added 17 digs and Maria Stankewicz tallied 21 assists.
"They had too much firepower," Jurkovich said. "They were strong one through six, they're hitters. There's no weaknesses in their lineup."
E-TC senior Brittany Suomumaki was a third-set standout, notching the first of three kills to give the Panthers a 20-17 edge.
Jurkovich called Forest Park "the best team we've faced all year."
That includes Lake Linden-Hubbell, which will meet Forest Park (29-3-3) at 7:30 p.m. (EDT) Tuesday in a Class D Region 32 tournament semifinal at Kingsford.
"Lake Linden is probably the best comparison (to Forest Park)," Jurkovich said. "I would say Forest Park is better. But that will be a great match-up."
The Trojans, who collected a 13th district title, reached the state semifinals last year.
"We know that it is going to take our best effort to beat Lake Linden," Bjork said. "We are going to get focused and drill hard."