GAYLORD - The stakes are a little higher.
The nerves are a little tighter.
So it's usually the team that finds its groove first that moves on.
Cadillac did just that midway through the first set and then cruised to a 3-0 (25-15, 25-3, 25-10) win over Houghton in a Class B regional semifinal match Tuesday at Gaylord High School.
The win sends the Vikings (43-7-1 overall) into Thursday's regional final against Grant. The Tigers beat Ludington in three sets in Tuesday's second match.
"I felt like we played pretty well but for Thursday, we've got talk more and keep the intensity up," Cadillac senior Morgan Kelley said. "We worked well as a team, too."
Ironically enough, the defining point of the night came quite early.
Cadillac was struggling, playing a little tight and trailed Houghton 14-13 midway through the first set.
Viking coach Michelle Brines called a timeout and got her team to take a breath.
"I think we were playing tight and I felt like Houghton was playing very well," she said. "We weren't working as a team at the start of that game."
The player to step up first and change that? Junior Mallory Taylor.
Taylor put down a pair of attacks to put Cadillac up 16-14. A hitting error by the Gremlins made it 17-14 before a tip by Morgan Briggs and a kill by Hannah Baker pushed it to 21-15.
"When Mallory had those two kills, it seemed like we could relax more," Brines said. "Everyone took a breath and then we played well.
"That relieved the pressure."
Right about that time, too, Houghton junior Sydney Dillinger left with an ankle injury, further hindering the Gremlins' efforts.
"Halfway through that first set, Cadillac stepped their game up," Houghton coach John Christianson said. "They attacked better and found some holes in our defense.
"That led to us stopping our movement and we didn't pass well after that.
When (Sydney) went out, the hill got even bigger. We needed her in there."
An ace by Cadillac's Elizabeth Whitley made it 25-15 and a kill by Taylor finished the set out.
All that momentum from the first set carried right over into the second set as Cadillac cruised to the victory and total control of the match.
Tied at 1-1, Kelley served the Vikings to a huge lead. Aces by Kelley made it 11-1 and 15-1 before kills by Selena Golnick made it 20-1 and 21-1.
A Cadillac hitting error stopped the run and moved the score to 22-2.
"I was just having fun back there," Kelley laughed.
The Vikings made the third game look pretty easy, too, as a kill by Briggs made it 18-5 and a kill by Golnick pushed it to 20-7 before Cadillac finished it out on a kill by junior Lisa Metzger.
For Houghton, winning a Class B district for the first time in school history and making itself a player at the next level was a good starting point.
"We set as one of our goals to go downstate (for the tournament," Christianson said. "Someone's got to go, so why not us?
"Beating Gladstone and Menominee got that done and this season has been a big accomplishment for the girls. The seniors helped us to blaze new trails."
Elisa Jurmu paced Houghton with three kills and five digs while Annika Wheeler had two kills and Dillinger two kills. Lexi Pyykkonen dished out six assists while Kenna Farrey had three.
Kayla Jacobson added four digs and Miranda Hillstrom two.