HANCOCK - The Calumet Copper Kings don't get beat very often on the volleyball court, so when they do, it's easy to remember.
Thursday, Calumet took down the only U.P. team to beat it this season and took back a Class C district crown residing in Houghton for two years with a 3-0 (25-22, 26-24, 25-15) sweep of the Gremlins in the district final.
The 2011 final at Houghton, in which Calumet led the fifth set 13-10 before losing the last five points, was on the mind of several Copper Kings before the match.
Calumet coach Lisa Twardzik holds the district championship trophy aloft as her team celebrates around her after beating Houghton 3-0 for the title Thursday night at Hancock Central High School. (DMG photo by Brandon Veale)
"We came out knowing it was time for revenge and time to take it back to Cal," senior libero Terra Erkkila said.
Of course, Calumet had to win this district title in its own right, which it did by taking some key points late in the first and second sets, then controlling the third.
"These players put in a lot of time and commitment to being successful. It's great when they're rewarded with a district trophy," Calumet coach Lisa Twardzik said.
Houghton and Calumet have met in some round of the districts every year since 2005 and had played six times already in 2012. The Copper Kings won five, so the Gremlins knew how tall the task was ahead of them.
"When you have as many weapons as they have, you have to make every chance you get count," Houghton coach John Christianson said. "We let some slip away."
The first chance Houghton had came at the very beginning. Calumet came out visibly nervous and trailed for much of the first set, in which it committed a highly unusual five service errors. Houghton's last lead came at 19-18 and was followed by a hitting error and back-to-back Lexie Rowe kills. The Gremlins got within 24-22 on another overcooked serve, but a kill from Ellen Twardzik on the second set point clinched a 1-0 lead.
Neither side had major control of set two until the finish, which swung wildly from side to side. Calumet put up four straight points for a 22-19 lead, then reached set point on kills from Loretta Anderson and Molly Loukus. However, those chances disappeared thanks to a block, two communication errors and a Mackezie Hietala ace for a 24-24 tie.
Instead of taking the lead, however, Houghton's next serve was long, and with a Kristy Lasanen kill on set point, Calumet was out of danger.
"We realized nerves did not help us and we had to just get out there and play confidently," she said.
Two sets in hand, Calumet loosened up and tightened its grip on the title. Houghton failed to score on its own serve in 10 consecutive rotations, while Calumet pulled away steadily, gaining a 20-11 lead.
Houghton killed off three more match points until Lasanen put away the district winner, her 12th kill of the night.
It was a victory signed by Calumet's seniors, who led them in every major statistical category.
"Incredible. Knowing the hard work we've put in the last three months, open gyms all summer, knowing the hard work you put in paying off, it's the best feeling you can have," Erkkila said.
Erkkila had 23 digs to lead all players. Christianson described the diminutive libero as a "defensive machine" and part of a deadly combination.
"If you hit cross(-court) from outside, it's right to Terra, and she digs it right to Kayleen (Anderson), who then picks which hitter to use," he said.
In addition to Lasanen's 12, Calumet got nine kills from Ellen Twardzik, eight from Loretta Anderson and seven from Rowe, all from 34 Kayleen Anderson assists. Kayleen Anderson (21), Lasanen (15) and Grace Hyrkas (10), all seniors, had double-digit digs.
For Houghton, Blaire Zenner had 10 kills and six blocks, though only one other Gremlin (Elisa Jurmu) had five kills. Seniors Bronwyn Nettell and Hietala co-led Houghton (36-11-5) with 11 digs apiece. Natalie Datto posted 23 assists and eight digs.
Despite losing the district title, Houghton still holds control of "The Rock" in Gladstone (for a third straight year), the Copper Spike and its own tournament title.
"Those are the things we need to be proud of and those are the things we build off of for the future," Christianson said.
Calumet will face Ishpeming, a five-set winner over Negaunee, in the second of two regional semifinals Tuesday (7:30 p.m.) in Norway. The other semifinal features Stephenson and WestPAC rival West Iron County.