CALUMET - The Calumet Copper Kings are forging new territory for U.P. volleyball in the regular season in hopes of forging new territory for U.P. volleyball in the postseason.
The Copper Kings claimed district and WestPAC championships in 2012 and begin their 2013 season Saturday at the Kingsford Invitational, but their schedule will include tournaments in Cadillac, Ashwaubenon, Wis., and Duluth, Minn.
"It's exciting to play teams you've never seen, never scouted and know nothing about. It's a great opportunity to see how girls handle pressure and how they respond," Calumet coach Lisa Twardzik said.
Calumet’s Loretta Anderson goes on the attack during a 2012 match against Lake Linden-Hubbell as teammate TeriLynne Budreau looks on. (DMG photo by Michael Bleach)
This Calumet team mixes a group of talented known quantities with players stepping into new positions and new roles.
"One of the reasons we take these trips is to really develop team chemistry. It's an important time to enjoy everybody," Twardzik said.
The two biggest known quantities are juniors Ellen Twardzik and Lexie Rowe.
Twardzik tore an ACL late in the Copper Kings' Class C state quarterfinal loss to Traverse City St. Francis, her second such injury in two years. But as Lisa Twardzik, her aunt, put it, "She knew the starting date."
"For a young athlete, that took a lot of discipline, a lot of hard work. I'm certainly pleased with her effort to be ready."
Where Ellen Twardzik anchors the middle, Rowe blasts away from the outside and will play all the way around the rotation for the first time this season.
Getting the ball to them will be a returning player in a very different position. Junior TeriLynne Budreau will direct the Copper King offense from the setter position after having a secondary role among Calumet's hitters as a sophomore.
"She's very talented and very quick and we're looking for someone to step into that role," coach Twardzik said.
Budreau, at a shade over 5-foot-10, is the tallest setter the Kings have had since Twardzik's daughter Erica, who piloted Calumet into the only state championship berth as of yet achieved by a U.P. program in 2008. Budreau's height bolsters the Copper Kings' already formidable block, though at this point, coach Twardzik said the initial goal is to get comfortable and establish consistency.
Seniors Loretta Anderson, Alisa Storm and Pam Torola add even more height for Calumet in the front row. All are close to 6 feet.
Another returner, junior Catherine Frantti, may hit from the right side some, but can also make a significant defensive contribution, where she was a specialist in 2012.
The graduation of Terra Erkkila from starting libero to Northern Michigan University walk-on will have a significant impact, though senior Megan Yeo will work with Frantti and junior newcomer Morgan Peters to meet that vacancy in the back row.
Other newcomers include Tristan Baranowski, Carissa Pavolich and Cassie Feeley. Selena Stromer, a senior, will join the crew in mid-season after recovering from injury.
After Kingsford, where it is the defending champion, Calumet hits the road to Cadillac Thursday, Ashwaubenon Sept. 14 and Duluth two weeks later. Things will look a little different on the schedule this year, as with rival Houghton in Class B, the only possible meetings with the Gremlins are WestPAC showdowns Sept. 19 in Calumet and Oct. 22 in Houghton and if they meet in the NMU Invitational in early October.
"That competitive spirit that many of these girls have will certainly help us in these tournaments in tight situations," coach Twardzik said.