HANCOCK - No matter the side of the victory their team landed on Tuesday night, Hancock volleyball coach Mary Kaminski and L'Anse coach Jen Knisely sounded remarkably similar in their post-game comments.
"We started out very slow, we just looked a little lethargic," Kaminski said. "We certainly weren't happy with our lackluster performance but we turned it around nicely. I don't know if we had tired legs or what, but we have to be able to fight through that better (in the first set)."
"The first set was awesome, and then the second and third, I don't even know what was going on," Knisely said. "We just dug ourselves a hole and were trying to get out for the rest of the game. It was a flash here in the first set, then again in the fourth. So we still need to find that consistency."
Michael Bleach/Daily Mining Gazette
Hancock’s Jen Hannon passes a serve as teammate Amanda Manninen looks on during Tuesday’s WestPAC?match against L’Anse.
In the end, it was Hancock who put together the sharpest stretch for the longest, dominating the second and third sets and then hanging on with a resilient effort in the fourth and final set to win 3-1 (20-25, 25-10, 25-16, 30-28) in the early season WestPAC matchup.
The fourth set spoke volumes about the match as a whole.
Behind the strong middle hitting of Valerie Rajala - who led the team in kills (13), blocks (eight) and digs (16) Tuesday night - the Purple Hornets jumped out to a 7-2 lead, and maintained that margin until it was 17-12.
After the initial surge, however, L'Anse couldn't find that killer run to put the Bulldogs away, and the hosts hung around until they took advantage of some unforced errors to pull even at 21-21. From there it was a contest of scrappy defense with Hancock eventually pulling it out at 30-28.
"Once we got the lead they relaxed a little on their passing," Knisely said. "We would rally back and forth, and could never find that good solid pass to put them away. ... I told them at the end of the game, this is the kind of game you have to be able to close out."
While not able to outright kill many points in the fourth set, Hancock kept the pressure on L'Anse with a steady barrage of useful swings to prevent the Hornets from transitioning into their quick-hit middle attack with Rajala and Alyssa Norback.
"That just shows true character for us which is what I told the ladies," Kaminski said.
"We were down, then we came back, but didn't capitalize on the opportunity, but we stuck with it and it was nice to see from them. We need to be able to do that.
"In Kingsford we snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, but it looks like we have learned from that and are making the right strides."
Hancock spread the wealth Tuesday night, with Taylor Mattson leading the way with nine kills. The Bulldogs also were able to take advantage of some aggressive serving to sustain rallies, getting nine aces from Mattson's low, hard jump serve and a strong serving run in the second set from Jennifer Hannon.
"They are scrappy, like Lake Linden, they are not going to give up on a lot of balls," Kaminski said. "And we know that, so we have to just keep coming."