MENOMINEE - Two long bus trips, the jump from Class C to Class B and the loud student sections of rival fans weren't going to stop Houghton's volleyball road warriors from their goal.
The Gremlins earned a happy bus trip to Gaylord with a 3-1 (25-18, 25-11, 13-25, 25-19) win over Menominee to capture the first Class B district title in the school's history Friday night.
"This is what we've worked for all season," said senior Ashlyn Kero. "It's a great feeling to added this to our wall at school."
The Maroons threatened to push the match to a fifth set when they jumped out to a 7-1 lead in the fourth game.
Led by the booming spikes of middle hitter Sydney Dillinger, the slicing cross-court hits from middle hitter Elisa Jurmu and an ace from Kero, the Gremlins staged a 20-10 flurry to claim a 22-17 lead on Jurmu ace and a Dillinger kill.
"I'm really proud of the way they came back in the fourth set," Houghton coach John Christianson said. "We were on our heels but we pulled ourselves off the ropes and got it done."
Christianson noted that a pair of huge block kills by Dillinger in the fourth game turned the tide toward the Gremlins.
"Everybody picked it up, especially the passing and the communication," said Dillinger. "We were focused on getting it. We wanted to do it for the seniors."
Menominee held a 15-13 lead in the opening set when Christianson called a timeout. The Gremlins responded to the mid-set adjustments with a 12-3 closing run to seal the first win.
"Menominee and us were in the same situation. We hadn't seen each other," Christianson explained. "I told them to move their hands and feet and get to the ball."
Dillinger gave the Gremlins the lead (16-15) in the first set with a tip kill and Annika Wheeler rifled a hit down the sidecourt to push the margin to 19-15. A tip kill and spike from Jada Riutta and a tip kill from Dillinger brought the Gremlins to game point and Kero's floater over the net sealed the deal.
Houghton rode its first-set momentum to an 12-2 lead in the second. An Amanda Pedersen spike and block by Maddy Anderla cut the lead to 13-7, but aces from Kenna Farrey and Riutta chilled the Maroon comeback. Jurmu and Emma Huhta smashed points across from the edge to give the Gremlins a 2-0 lead.
Brooke Janquart jump-started the Maroons in the third set with a pair of aces as Menominee bolted out to a 10-4 lead.
A dink shot by Dillinger and a Jurmu spike kill trimmed the margin to 13-8, but Menominee would never let the Gremlins put a run together.
Aces by Janquart and Krah pumped the lead to 22-11 and a sideout gave the Maroons the third-game win.
"Menominee played incredible in the third set," said Christianson. "Their serving took us out of our game. They really rocked us."
The Maroons seemed on their way to squaring the match when they stormed out to a 7-1 lead in the fourth game.
Kero helped light a fire under the Gremlins with a hard smash from the outside and an ace.
An Anderla ace gave Menominee a 13-9 lead before Houghton came charging back to claim the district trophy.
Houghton traveled to Gladstone Wednesday and defeated the Braves 3-1. Kero noted that the trip to Menominee made the Gremlins a little weary of bus travel.
"It felt like we were on the bus all day, but once we got on the court, we got pumped up."
The Gremlins made road trips to Oshkosh, Wis., and Suttons Bay this season and Christianson feels the WestPAC conference competition prepared his team for Class B play.
"The girls really showed a lot of heart tonight," said Christianson. "Moving up to Class B, we knew we had to be road warriors. We knew we would have to travel a lot. Our regular season really prepared us for this."
Jurmu had 11 kills, Huhta had eight kills, Dillinger had six kills and Riutta added five kills.
Farrey sparked the Gremlin offense with 23 assists and Lexi Pyykkonen had 14 assists.
Miranda Hillstrom led Houghton in digs with 15, Dillinger had 14, Jurmu finished with 13 and Riutta had 12,
The Gremlins advance to the regional tournament in Gaylord, where they'll play Cadillac Tuesday at 6 p.m.