L'ANSE - Calumet delivered the quality of a champion at just the right time to separate itself from Hancock and successfully defend its Class C district championship Thursday, sweeping the Bulldogs 3-0 (25-22, 25-23, 25-10).
"You know that target is constantly on your back and teams can't wait to beat you. It's a testament to these girls. One of our themes has been 'rise to the occasion,' all season, and I think they definitely did that. We knew Hancock was going to come in fired. They were ready to go," Calumet coach Lisa Twardzik said.
The Copper Kings got a strong test from the Bulldogs, and only after two tight sets did Calumet provide the oomph to propel itself into a regional semifinal Tuesday night in Gladstone against former WestPAC rival Ironwood.
Calumet players celebrate victory in the Class C?district championship match Thursday night against Hancock at L’Anse High School. (DMG photo by Brandon Veale)
"It's exciting. It's an opportunity to get even better and win some more, hopefully," Calumet's Pam Torola said.
Hancock, carrying momentum over from the competitive last two sets (both 25-20) of its WestPAC finale at Calumet last week, did not back down in the spotlight, hitting .222 and .310 in the first two sets. Calumet built an early lead, but Hancock tied it at 19, setting up a point-for-point race to the finish line.
Amanda Manninen pulled Hancock to within 22-21, but Calumet middle Ellen Twardzik, playing in her first competitive situation since a knee injury Sept. 24, gave the Kings a two-point lead when her tip created disorder in the Hancock defense.
Loretta Anderson followed with a kill on the next ball for 24-21, and though Taylor Mattson's kill staved off the first set point, a tip from Lexie Rowe went down for her fifth and final kill of the set.
"My team knew that we needed to be focused, and we were pumped up from the beginning of school. Our fans get us pumped up, our coach gets us pumped up. It's an unreal feeling," Rowe said.
The Bulldogs pushed again in the second set, tying at 22 on a Calumet hitting error. However, Carissa Pavolich delivered the tiebreaking kill and Catherine Frantti served an ace on the next ball. An aggressive attack by setter Nicole Anderson eliminated one set point, but Ellen Twardzik put the ball down to win another hard-earned set.
"We were out of system too much tonight, so it made it difficult to get comfortable and confident in our offense," Lisa Twardzik said.
The Bulldogs had success with off-speed attacks and were effective finding holes in Calumet's defense.
"It kept us on our toes, and so it made defense difficult," coach Twardzik said.
It turned out to be about all the resistance Hancock could muster.
Calumet, with the help of service runs from Frantti and Torola, won eight of the first nine points in the third frame, with the only Hancock point coming on a service error.
The Bulldogs never got closer than 10-5 and Megan Yeo served it out with five straight points, including an ace on district championship point.
For Hancock, there was marked improvement on the floor, but just not enough to advance.
"We're a good team. We need to be able to turn the corner, and boy, there's a bunch of unhappy gals right now who are probably ready to start working tomorrow," Hancock coach Mary Kaminski said.
"It breaks my heart to have the season come to an end because they put so much work into this season."
The Bulldogs got 11 kills and 12 digs from Mattson, a senior. Sydney Lucier added 10 digs, while Nicole Anderson dished out 19 assists and a pair of aces.
"At some point in the season, somebody is not going to win, unfortunately for us. With all their effort and all they did, they gave everything they had," Kaminski said of her team, which finished 28-13.
Calumet got 11 kills apiece from Rowe and Alisa Storm, who posted six of hers in the third set.
Terilynne Budreau posted 33 assists.
Yeo racked up 28 digs from her libero spot, while Frantti had 17 and Rowe 12.
The Kings are in the first semifinal in Gladstone against Ironwood, while Gwinn and St. Ignace will make up the other side of the bracket.
"They handled pressure, so that's nice, because there's going to be constant pressure all the way through a tournament. The seniors on this court are determined and aren't going to give up," coach Twardzik said.