By BRANDON VEALE
CALUMET - The Calumet volleyball team has taken a lot of road trips this season, most of them with this trip in mind.
Calumet players Morgan Peterson (1), Terilynne Budreau (14), Pam Torola (7), Alisa Storm and Carissa Pavolich (3)?celebrate a point in the final of the Gremlin Invitational in Houghton in October. Calumet faces Beal City in a Class C?state quarterfinal tonight. (DMG photo by Brandon Veale)
Tonight, the Copper Kings face Beal City in St. Ignace for a chance to go below the bridge and return to the state semifinals in Battle Creek for the first time since 2008.
Though Calumet has beaten every U.P. team it has played, it has bolstered its competition level in recent years with the tournament in mind.
"You do try to get exposed to a variety of teams and to become familiar playing at different tempos. Going into a foreign gym like Ashwaubenon (Wis.) or Duluth (Minn.) and playing teams you don't encounter during the season does help you prepare mentally for these matches," Calumet coach Lisa Twardzik said.
Since the Copper Kings reached the 2008 Class C state title game, the Region 48 winner (which has either been Calumet or Houghton in all four previous instances) has lost in the quarterfinals four times in four tries.
This year, the assignment doesn't get any easier. Beal City floats up from Class D, where it reached the state championship match before falling victim to small-school juggernaut Battle Creek St. Philip, winners of the last seven 'D' titles.
The Aggies defeated Traverse City St. Francis, Calumet's opponent in last year's quarterfinal, 3-1 in the regional final Thursday.
Beal City coach Kelly David said her team's tournament run, which also included a win over 2010 semifinalist Leroy Pine River, has shown her how bad her team wants to return to Battle Creek.
"They come out with confidence. Last year, it took a while for us to gain that confidence," she said.
David said the Aggies return four or five starters from last year.
The Aggies, ranked No. 3 in the Michigan Interscholastic Volleyball Coaches Association poll, are led by all-state middle hitter Addie Schumacher, a 6-foot-tall two-time state high jump champion who had a team-best seven kills in the state final last year.
"She does a good job changing up her shots and finding the open spots on the floor," Twardzik said.
Calumet, however, has several players capable of getting in her way, and the Copper Kings' height is a concern for the Aggies.
"We know that they're big and that they can hit the ball and we just hope we are attacking at them rather than them attacking at us," David said.
At stake: a trip to Kellogg Arena in Battle Creek and a semifinal Friday afternoon against Ottawa Lake Whiteford or Auburn Hills Oakland Christian.
"At each of these levels, you have to play more aggressively," Twardzik said.