BARAGA - New faces. A new look for old ones. A new season.
But for the Baraga and Lake Linden-Hubbell volleyball teams, it was the same old story to kick off Mountain Lakes Conference play.
Despite losing eight seniors from last year's team - including two all-state honorable mentions in middle hitters Mandy Perreault and Brittni Kisul - the Lakes conquered the court Tuesday with the usual set of attributes associated with head coach Karen Keranen's teams. They passed well, served efficiently (13 aces) and found a decisive run in each match to sweep the Vikings 3-0 (25-19, 25-20, 25-14).
"Losing eight seniors is huge, especially when two of them were all-state runner-up," Keranen said. "Our team is pulling together really well, it really is. Especially because I think this is the youngest team that I have had ever.
"The team is working really well together. I don't have anything to complain about. They are moving together, covering tips, just reading it well. When someone made a mistake someone was there to pick up the slack. A lot of good team performance."
For the match's opening set, Baraga had the Lakes tied at 17-17 before a seven point-run from the serve of Ciara Larson buried the hosts for good. In the second game, Baraga trailed just 16-15 before three straight mini-runs pulled the Lakes ahead 23-17.
Despite their relative inexperience, the Lakes displayed calm and collected poise on the ball when they sensed a chance to seize a set.
"We really, really focus on defense and our quickness first. That is what we need more than anything," Larson said. "Once we play that first ball the rest falls into place."
"For those first two games, we were right there," Baraga coach Peggy Reinsch added. "Lake Linden does not beat themselves, and we just gave up one more run than they did."
With Kisul and Perreault leaving a hole of many levels in the middle of the court, Keranen shifted former outside hitter Larson to middle hitter this year for the first time in Larson's varsity career.
Not that is showed Tuesday.
The senior - one of only four on the roster - has taken to her new responsibilities quickly, providing returning setter Sarah Audette with a preferred target to funnel the offense through.
Larson led all players with nine kills, three blocks and chipped in 10 digs Tuesday.
"Ciara is stepping up to the plate big time," Keranen said. "We had to adjust her to the middle because of our lack of height.
"She is picking up the angles well. She is seeing the court. She is placing the ball well in both directions. She is stepping up."
Larson credited her experience with Audette at setter for making the transition smooth.
"That helps a lot having a setter that I have already worked with," Larson said. "She knows me and I know her well. We are pretty comfortable out there."
"They work well together, that is a great duo," Keranen added.
Senior Melissa Putala led the Vikings with six kills while junior Tessa Gilbertson contributed five.
Reinsch noted the difference in the serving games was one factor in particular her team would be trying to shore up before the October rematch in Lake Linden.
"I think we are right on the cusp," Reinsch said. "We are right there. We flashed today, and now we just have to be more consistent."