BARAGA - For the Baraga volleyball team, the third time did indeed prove to be the charm against cross-bay rival L'Anse.
Fittingly enough, it came at a triangular, with Houghton matching up against the Baraga county duo as well.
The Vikings knocked off the Purple Hornets 2-1 (25-16, 24-26, 25-13) Tuesday, for their first win against their rivals this season. L'Anse had won the previous two matchups, defeating Baraga in August and September.
L’Anse setter Heather McCarthy and Baraga outside hitter Melissa Putala battle for a ball at the net Tuesday in Baraga’s 2-1 win over their bay rivals. (DMG photo by Michael Bleach)
"It is better than a good day (when Baraga beats L'Anse)," Baraga coach Peggy Reinsch said. "Especially because this is the first time we have beaten them this season. We lost on the first game of the season in August, and then again in September. So its just really good to get a win.
"That desire, that energy to prove something. We had it tonight."
Consistent, solid defense proved the difference for Baraga.
After being dominated by L'Anse middle hitter Valerie Rajala in the last meeting, the Baraga backline was able to dig almost every swing Rajala put on the ball.
The defense quickly translated into offense, as senior outside hitter Rebecca Larson recorded seven kills in the three sets to lead all Viking hitters.
"Hardly any (cheap points) at all," Reinsch said. "We played defense so much better today. It really made a difference.
"We could not control Valerie Rajala last time we played them," Reinsch added. "She hit ball after ball after ball through our right-side defense. Today, I don't think she killed one there."
Reinsch also believed that more impactful serving put L'Anse on their back heel from the start.
"Our serving was much more aggressive today," Reinsch said. "I think it took L'Anse a little bit out of what they wanted to do."
And while Baraga experienced success against L'Anse for the first time this year, Houghton once again proved too much to overcome for both squads.
The Gremlins improve to 4-1 in the WestPAC with a 3-1 (19-25, 25-18, 25-17, 25-21) victory over L'Anse and added a 2-0 non-conference victory over Baraga to ratchet the record up to 27-9-5 overall this season.
While Houghton started slow in the first set - which head coach John Christianson thought might happen after a busy tournament weekend - the Gremlins were able to cruise over the final three for a conference win.
"We knew that we needed to take care of business and get the win," Christianson said. "We have already lost once to Calumet, so we need to keep winning just to have a chance at conference."
Senior middle Blaire Zenner led the team with nine kills (and three blocks), while fellow middle hitter Elisa Jurmu chipped in seven.
"We made too many unforced errors in the first set, but as time went on we cleaned it up," Christianson said. "And we were able to take control after that. On any given night, anybody can beat anybody. So you have to remain steady and do all the right things every time."
Against Baraga, in a best-of-three match, both teams extensively went to the bench to gain varsity experience with younger players.
Most importantly to Christianson, he was able to get his middle hitters some back-row experience - such as Jurmu - and his defensive specialists some front line playing time - such as sophomore Sydney Dillinger.
"Non-conference, coming off a tournament, the whole idea is to get some playing time to the reserve or underclassmen who don't get to play as much," Christianson said. "You get extra reps, and you get experience at all positions to some girls who are only playing front or back row right now, and you can build a bit to the future."