HOUGHTON - Neither Calumet nor Lake Linden-Hubbell have been strangers to success this season or in past Michigan High School Athletic Association volleyball tournaments.
Though the regional tournament hurdle both teams face is familiar, it is not necessarily short.
In Class D, Lake Linden-Hubbell has faced Forest Park in the last two regional tournaments and come up short both times. After another successful run through the district tournament, the Lakes expect to need to go into tonight's match (7:30 p.m. ET) in Kingsford with guns blazing to take down the Lady Trojans from Crystal Falls.
Lake Linden-Hubbell’s Ciara Larson attempts to block an attack from Forest Park’s Lexi Gussert during the 2011 Class D?regional championship in Baraga. Forest Park and LL-H?meet again tonight in the regional semifinals at Kingsford. (DMG photo by Brandon Veale)
"I think I liked the most the fact that they worked together as a unit (in the districts). That's what we're going to need: working together, all parts firing to beat Crystal," LL-H coach Karen Keranen said.
Forest Park won last year's regional final in Baraga 3-0 and a 2010 meeting 3-1, but there's good reason to believe the margin between the two has thinned quite a bit. When the teams played Sept. 17 at the Forest Park Invitational in Crystal Falls, they split two sets in pool play, then met again for the championship, with FP prevailing by the narrowest of margins: 15-13 in the third and deciding set.
FP's strength starts in the middle, where Lexi Gussert provides a formidable opponent at the net, but Keranen hopes that by providing several challengers and moving them laterally, the Lakes can improve offensively and defensively.
"We're trying to offer a little more variety," she said.
The winner between the Lakes and Trojans will face either Superior Central or North Dickinson in Thursday's championship.
In Class C, the Copper Country hopes to extend its dominance in the persons of the Calumet Copper Kings.
Calumet will be a heavy favorite, not only because it has just one loss to a U.P. team this season, but because the Copper Country district champion, whether it be Houghton or the Copper Kings, has won every regional tournament since volleyball became a fall sport in 2007.
Calumet begins regional play tonight (7:30 p.m. ET) in Norway against Ishpeming.
The Hematites had a losing record in dual matches this season and came up to the Houghton Invitational in October, where they lost decisively to the Copper Kings both times.
Ishpeming's top player and only Mid-Peninsula Conference pick is Alesha O'Brien, who had 14 kills in a five-set district final win at Negaunee.
"Confidence and our ability to control our nerves are two things that are going to be essential," Calumet coach Lisa Twardzik said.
Ishpeming is coached by Amy (Keskimaki) Rautiola, a Houghton alum.
The other semifinal features Stephenson, a district champion for the first time in 11 years, vs. West Iron County, which overcame three match points against in the fifth set of the district final against Ironwood to win it 16-14 two nights after taking out 10-time defending district champion Iron Mountain.