CALUMET - The loud and boisterous crowd at Calumet High School was excited about them, and the Copper King volleyball team had reason to be just as amped Thursday.
After a second straight 3-0 win in a week over a Copper Country rival, this time Houghton, Calumet controls the WestPAC standings in the early going.
"We really wanted it," junior outside hitter Lexie Rowe said. "This is one team we really like to beat."
Calumet’s Ellen Twardzik goes on the the attack during the second set of Thursday’s WestPAC?match as Elisa Jurmu of Houghton attempts the block. The Copper Kings claimed a 3-0 victory. (DMG photo by Brandon Veale)
Indeed, Houghton and Calumet have played tug-of-war over the WestPAC title for some time, but save for a stretch midway through the third set, the Copper Kings controlled things from the outset in their 25-18, 25-14, 26-24 victory.
Much of that had to do with their abilities at the net, where the likes of Ellen Twardzik, Alisa Storm, Loretta Anderson and Terilynne Budreau set a big block.
"We have some tall girls at the net who realize it takes a lot of effort to set a block," Calumet coach Lisa Twardzik said.
And with a big block, Houghton had to go off-speed to get results and the Copper Kings were waiting for them.
"We knew they were going to tip over our block, so we adjusted that pretty well," senior libero Megan Yeo said.
When it came time for some of those players to go on the offensive, they overwhelmed their Gremlin counterparts, tooling shots off their hands and out of bounds or hitting them before Houghton blockers were fully in position, resulting in balls that rolled down the body and to the Houghton side of the floor.
"We were late to jump and slow off our feet," Houghton coach John Christianson said.
Houghton got into trouble midway through the first set, trailing 15-7. Playing an elite team on the road was not the recipe for a comeback and the closest the Gremlins got was 17-14 before the Copper Kings scored three of the last four points, establishing their lead on a powerful kill from Rowe, one of nine for the match.
Set two got even worse for the visitors. Calumet took advantage of a string of Houghton errors for a 6-0 lead served by Anderson. After Houghton pulled three back, Catherine Frantti stepped up to serve and the Kings rattled off seven more for an insurmountable 13-3 gap.
Houghton looked better in the third, leading several times, including as late as 20-19. Then Calumet pushed them to the brink, with five in a row served by Frantti.
Facing four match points, Houghton took advantage of a serving error, back-to-back hitting errors and a Emma Huhta kill to tie it up against the odds.
However, Budreau tricked the Gremlins with a dump set to make it 25-24 Kings and Calumet won the next point and the match on a hitting error.
"We have to learn how to compete like that from the beginning," Christianson said.
A big difference Christianson noticed was how the teams reacted to adverse situations.
"When things got scrambly, they pushed the ball high to give themselves time to reset and get swings, and we just poked it back, often fairly short," he said.
For Houghton, Elisa Jurmu had a team-best nine kills and added seven digs. Sydney Dillinger added five kills, two blocks and a team-leading eight digs. Lexi Pyykkonen (nine) and Kenna Farrey (eight) combined for 17 assists from the setter spot.
The Gremlins are back in action Tuesday in a home triangular with L'Anse and Dollar Bay.
In addition to Rowe's nine kills, Ellen Twardzik had eight and Anderson five. Budreau posted 26 assists. Pam Torola had an impressive 22 digs, while Rowe kicked in 11.
Calumet, now 3-0 in WestPAC play, isn't going to rest on its laurels going into this weekend's Articatz Invitational in Marquette.
"You can never be too good. You can never settle for less than you deserve. You have to push to get better and that's what we'll be doing," Rowe said.