MANISTIQUE - Traverse City St. Francis appeared to be struggling in warm-ups prior to Tuesday's Class C state quarterfinal volleyball match in the Manistique High School gym.
But looks can sometimes be so deceiving.
Such was the case this time as the Calumet Copper Kings suffered a 3-1 (22-25, 25-13, 25-18, 25-18) loss to the Gladiators.
The victory sends St. Francis to the semifinals for the first time to face Unionville-Sebewaing Thursday in Battle Creek.
"This is huge, not only for us," said Heather Simpson, who shares the St. Francis coaching duties with Rita Jones. "This is also huge for our school and community. We're excited to be taking another road trip, and the people are excited for us. The girls deserve this."
Following a St. Francis serving error, the Copper Kings, behind a five-point service run by senior Molly Loukus, gained a quick 6-0 lead in the opening set.
"Molly did a great job serving," said Calumet coach Lisa Twardzik. "I thought we came out strong in the first set. We ran a strong attack and were able to put the ball away."
St. Francis rallied to take a 9-8 lead, but a hitting error enabled to Copper Kings to pull even.
A kill by senior outside hitter Kristy Lasanen enabled Calumet to regain the lead, and the Copper Kings eventually widened their advantage to 24-17.
St. Francis, making its first quarterfinal appearance in 15 years, then climbed within 24-22 before an ace by sophomore outside hitter Lexie Rowe enabled the Copper Kings to secure the opener.
"We didn't have our best warm-up," said Jones. "Calumet has a good team. But once we got our ducks in a row, we were on our way. Once our girls get going, they're hard to stop."
The Gladiators proved just how true that is by immediately taking charge of the second set behind a five-point run by freshman Madeline Rysztak. Helping their cause was a pair of kills senior middle hitter/blocker Bridget Bussell and an ace by Rysztak.
Rysztak also provided a four-point run to put St. Francis up 5-0 in the third set and Bussell collected three kills in the fourth to help the Gladiators to gain a quick 10-3 advantage.
"It all came down to serve receives, and the jump serves by No. 8 (Rysztak) were real difficult to control," said Twardzik. "We were also having a difficult time getting a block on Bridget (Bussell) and their outside hitters gave us some problems."
A St. Francis hitting and blocking error enabled Calumet to trim its deficit to 10-5. The Copper Kings, however, were unable to get any closer.
The Copper Kings did pull within 21-15 before St. Francis secured the decision behind three consecutive service points, including an ace, by Bussell.
Sophomore middle hitter Ellen Twardzik, often double-teamed by Bussell and senior Leah Schmerheim, finished with nine kills and two blocks.
"We noticed she really liked the left corner," said Jones. "When we doubled up on her, we were able to take that away."
Ellen Twardzik, however, suffered an ankle injury late in the finale and was unable to finish the match.
Rowe also had nine kills and Lasanen added eight.
Senior setter Kayleen Anderson collected 28 assists. Lasanen had 18 digs and senior Terra Erkkila recorded 17.
"We're proud of our seniors," said coach Twardzik. "They worked hard all season. They represented our school with a lot of pride. Overall, we had a real good year. This team played with a lot of heart. They fought to the end."
Bussell finished with four aces, 17 kills, three blocks and 20 digs. Rysztak added five aces, 10 kills and 11 digs. Junior Megan Seida had seven aces and 11 digs and senior Kaitlyn Hegewald collected 37 assists.