Calumet preps for showdown with Houghton Lake in state quarterfinals

Calumet celebrates the match-winning point in the regional finals against West Iron County, Thursday in L’Anse. Calumet faces Houghton Lake in the Class C quarterfinals in Munising tonight at 7 p.m. (Bryce Derouin/Daily Mining Gazette)

CALUMET — The Calumet Copper Kings have played the underdog role. They’ve been the team that’s “just happy to be there.”  

They’re done with it. Now, they know they belong. 

Last season, the Copper Kings were swept by Bronson in the state semifinals before Bronson captured its second consecutive Class C state title. This year they are one game away from a potential rematch, but first, they have to get through Houghton Lake, today at 7 p.m. in Munising. 

“Our mentality has changed because last year we didn’t know we could make it that far,” senior Lea Bjorn said. “It wasn’t realistic. In the beginning of the season things were rough for us so we never even imagined it possible, but this year we knew we could do it if we worked for it.” 

The Copper Kings don’t know much about Houghton Lake, but they do know a win gets them back to Battle Creek, which has been the goal all season.  

“We’ve talked a lot about that this year, just taking it one game at a time and making sure we are focused on the task at hand and just not looking too far in the future,” head coach Matt Laho said.  

Still, when every moment of the season has been dedicated to redemption at Battle Creek, staying in the now is easier said than done. That’s why it’s not enough for Calumet to take things one game at a time. The team has to focus on even smaller details.  

“You really just have to take it one ball at a time,” senior Amber Johnson said. “Even though we say one game at a time, sometimes you have to dumb that down to one ball at a time. If you do that, you stop thinking about what is so far ahead and focus on right now.” 

After all, Johnson remembers what it was like driving home last season after being swept by Bronson. She also knows this is her last shot at a state title.  

“With that loss comes determination,” she said. “I won’t let that happen again. I will do whatever I can for that not to happen.” 

Part of the reason this Calumet team is so successful is because of its level of discipline. The Copper Kings approach every practice, every drill, every game and every play with the same determination. But that doesn’t mean they don’t enjoy themselves. Getting to Battle Creek isn’t all about volleyball, it is also about having fun. 

“We talk about the memories from last season,” senior Brea Johnson said. “We tell the younger girls that it was the best part of the whole season, you go off with your whole team, basically your second family for a whole week.” 

The idea of another road trip filled with singing competitions, loud music and conversations with their favorite people is enough to get the Copper Kings excited. Add a chance to avenge last year’s loss and you’ve got a dream come true. 

“Just talking to my friends at school about it, I get butterflies, we are just giddy when we think about it,” Amber Johnson said. “We just want to get there again and work really hard, because for us seniors this is our last shot.” 

Battle Creek is in within reach. The only thing standing in the way is Houghton Lake, and the Copper Kings are ready. They’ve been waiting all season for this moment.  

“I think it is good to have that knowledge and excitement of what it is like to be there because it will motivate us,” Bjorn said. “We know we have to win against Houghton Lake to get there.” 

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