I've spent a lot of time in the car lately, what with the All-U.P. football meeting in Marquette last week and the first of two district tournament trips to L'Anse on Tuesday night.
Of course, racking up the mileage isn't always a fun way to spend one's time, but sometimes you have to go far and wide to find the best, whether that's football players or volleyball matches or anything.
You already know the U.P.'s best football players, or at least you do if you read Saturday's Daily Mining Gazette, but let's take a moment to look far and wide for the best volleyball players in the Copper Country.
It's time for the fourth annual Daily Mining Gazette All-Area volleyball team.
Let's start our voyage up high on the map and up high in the air, which is often territory reserved for Calumet junior outside hitter Lexie Rowe.
Rowe, the WestPAC's most valuable player, continues to feature an explosive right arm that ought to be getting attention at the collegiate level. She overcame an ankle injury in midseason to lead her team into tonight's district final in L'Anse against Hancock.
In the back row, senior Megan Yeo often provided the first pass that led to Rowe's right arm and is one of a group of seniors that won all 16 of their WestPAC matches over the past two seasons.
Driving down the hill a bit, Hancock is featuring in a district final for the first time since 2009 tonight and senior Taylor Mattson has a lot to do with that beyond just her 11 kills in Tuesday's semifinal against L'Anse.
Mattson, a right-side hitter, also had a major role in Hancock's 3-1 victory over Houghton in the Copper Spike match in October, one of the biggest regular season victories for the Bulldogs in several years.
Junior setter Nicole Anderson also has played a big role this season in directing Hancock's big step forward.
Elsewhere, Houghton junior middle hitter Sydney Dillinger has harassed some of the U.P.'s best hitters with her height and reach on defense, while Lake Linden-Hubbell libero Erin Gast has frustrated offenses all over with her ability to dig up nearly everything from her spot in the back row.
Rounding out the first team is Baraga's Melissa Putala, who pushed the Vikings to a share of the Mountain Lakes Conference championship and earned league MVP honors.
For our second team, I choose the devastating one-two connection up the middle from Calumet: setter Terilynne Budreau and middle Alisa Storm. From L'Anse is Valerie Rajala and her potent jump serve, first-class all-around athlete Elisa Jurmu of Houghton, Lake Linden-Hubbell offensive powerhouse Ciara Larson, Hancock junior Amanda Manninen and Ann Ruohonen of Chassell, a senior who helped lead the Panthers to a share of the MLC title for the first time in school history.
As always, I hope to some day cast a vote for these players' daughters or sisters for a full-fledged All-U.P. team, but until then, please accept my congratulations on an impressive 2013 season.
Brandon Veale can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/redveale.