HOUGHTON - For two sets Tuesday night, the Lake Linden-Hubbell volleyball team cruised over Baraga. Seemingly every ball was dug, the two-setter offense wonderfully diverse and the serving crisp and varied.
Then the Vikings got a foothold in the third set, and it all fell apart.
One minute the Lakes were putting on a clinic, and the next they were scrambling and indecisive. Lake Linden took an initial 8-2 lead in the third set before dropping it 25-23.
Lake Linden-Hubbell’s Sarah Audette sets the ball during Tuesday’s Mountain Lakes Conference match against Baraga. (DMG photo by Michael Bleach)
Worse, LL-H had experienced a similar scenario last week against Chassell and never pulled out of the funk. The 2-0 blown lead to the Panthers - where Chassell won the final three sets - lingered in the minds of the young Lake Linden team.
"I believe it was John Wooden who said 'Avoid extreme highs,'" Lakes coach Karen Keranen said. "'Because with those extreme highs come extreme lows.' And that is this team. If I could summarize it in a quote, it would be that one for this team. We need to learn to play steady and confident."
This time, however, thanks to a regain in form defensively - Keranen noted an adjustment to an atypical Baraga tipping strategy - and a return of the devastating serving game Lake Linden righted itself to pull out with a 3-1 (25-22, 25-14, 23-25, 25-16) victory.
Baraga hung tough in the fourth set to take a slim 16-15 lead before setter Sarah Audette went on a nine-point serving run to finish off the match.
Her hard, knuckle-ball type serve gave the Lakes the boost they needed - and a plethora of free-balls - to avoid a repeat Chassell-performance.
"They needed to do that because I don't know what game five would have produced confidence-wise," Keranen said. "This team is very emotionally driven. It looks great and then all of the sudden it just looks like hard work and the confidence bottoms out."
Baraga hurt its own cause as well, failing to take advantage of the Lakes' precarious position with six service errors in the first 16 points of the decisive set.
"It was brutal in the last set," Baraga coach Peggy Reinsch said. "It was crucial in that fourth set that when we had a chance to get something started - boom, errors."
Middle hitter Ciara Larson led all players with 16 kills, while senior hitter Morgan Codere chipped in five from the outside position.
In the first two sets especially, it was the serving of libero Erin Gast, Larson and Audette that caused the Vikings fits.
Gast in particular repeatedly utilized a short, float serve that landed just over the net and threw off the timing of the Baraga offense. The senior finished with five aces, but the psychological impact was even greater than that.
"She is so good at that short serve," Keranen said. "Just drops it over. She really delights in doing that, because it messes up their system then."
With the high fluctuations of her team's performance, Keranen noted that it was the senior Codere who's steadiness helped the team find its way back on track. Along with the five kills, Codere led the team in digs with 13.
"She is definitely the unsung hero of this team," Keranen said. "She does it all. A good serve, some nice swings from the outside. We needed her tonight."