5th time’s the charm!

After 4 straight seasons of falling in the quarterfinals, Calumet knocks off Traverse City St. Francis to earn berth in state semis

Record-Eagle/Brett A. Sommers The Calumet volleyball team celebrates winning its state quarterfinal match over Traverse City St. Francis 3-1 Tuesday at Charlevoix High School.

CHARLEVOIX Several Copper Kings took deep breaths from a helium-filled balloon following Tuesday night’s state quarterfinal volleyball match.

Their high-pitched voices only amplified the excitement Calumet felt after knocking off Traverse City St. Francis 3-1 (25-22, 13-25, 28-26, 25-23) to advance to the Class C state semifinals at Kellogg Arena in Battle Creek.

The victory marked a long wait for Calumet, which had advanced to the quarterfinal round each of the last four seasons on the brink of making it to Kellogg only to have their dreams dashed and begin a long trip back home. Last season and 2012 came to an end in losses to the Gladiators, so it only felt that much sweeter.

“That’s a goal every single year (to make it to Battle Creek), and the past four years we’ve made it to this match and lost,” Calumet senior Hailey Wickstrom said. “It’s literally the best feeling in the world. I could not be happier right now.”

The feeling was quite the opposite for St. Francis, which played in the semifinals last season and looked forward to advancing there once more.

After battling back from an opening set loss and taking the second game convincingly, the match’s turning point came in set No. 3.

St. Francis had ridden the momentum of the second set into the third and led 24-20. The Gladiators needed just one of the next four points. It didn’t happen.

The Copper Kings reeled off four straight to knot the game at 24, and after trading points for ties at 25 and 26, Calumet struck for the final two.

Record-Eagle/Brett A. Sommers Calumet's Hailey Wickstrom (17) and Anna Johnson (14) attempt to block Traverse City St. Francis' Molly Mirabelli during Tuesday's state quarterfinal volleyball game against Calumet at Charlevoix High School. Calumet won 3-1.

“Calumet wanted that set a little bit more than we did,” St. Francis head coach Rita Jones said. “I’m not saying our girls didn’t want it. I’m just saying Calumet wanted it more. It takes a little wind out of your sail.”

“The whole point is it’s not over until it’s over,” Wickstrom said.

St. Francis senior Juliana Phillips said she wasn’t sure if the setback impacted the Glads in the deciding fourth game, but she knew it gave a boost to the Copper Kings.

“We definitely didn’t capitalize when we should have in the third game,” Phillips said. “It definitely carried them into the fourth game whether we were still feeling down about it or not. It pushed them.”

The fourth game was nip and tuck again, but after ties at 20, 21 and 22, Calumet took advantage of a St. Francis service error to create a small cushion and then grabbed the match’s final point.

Calumet head coach Lisa Twardzik said the Copper Kings have come a long way since the beginning of the season and absolutely earned the trip to Battle Creek.

“Oh, my word. These girls always set the bar high, but they had to work for it this year,” Twardzik said. “We were not champions of our first tournament, and we had a lot of growing to do. What great team chemistry and character they showed in being able to work every darn day in practice.”

Despite tying the match 1-1, St. Francis entered the match flat. Calumet built an early 9-4 lead and clearly showed more energy in the opening set.

The Gladiators never held a lead in the 25-22 loss. Jones said all season, and even during the two regional rounds, slow beginnings became a habit for the Gladiators, who began all four sets against Calumet trailing at least 2-0.

“That’s been the story this year,” Jones said. “You can say it until you’re blue in the face, but it’s really got to come from the within the girls to start off strong. We’re a younger group and a little more timid. It was a bummer to get down early.”

Getting such a decisive victory in set No. 2 definitely gave the Gladiators and St. Francis the confidence they would win. Calumet’s comeback in the third set changed that.

“I’m disappointed. I felt like we had good chances to come back and win it,” Jones said. “Calumet is a good team. I feel like they played a little bit harder than us, they swung a little bit harder than us. They deserved to win.”

The biggest thorn in the side of the Gladiators was Wickstrom. The senior hitter roamed in front of the net and finished with a match-high 26 kills. Defensively, Wickstrom was her own wall to St. Francis’ attacks, and the Glads were unable to find the open spots around her.

“Their defense was spectacular,” Jones said of the Copper Kings. “No. 17 (Wickstrom) takes up a big part of the block. We had to hit around her. They were camping out on the outside of her and that is where we seemed to be hitting. We could have been hitting the line a little more. Our passing wasn’t well enough to hit that shot.”

Lea Bjorn was a strong complement to Wickstrom, finishing with 16 kills of her own. Anna Johnson led the Copper Kings with 45 assists and Amber Johnson had 23 digs.

Calumet will face Bronson the defending state champion in the state semifinals on Thursday at 3:45 p.m.

Molly Mirabelli had 16 kills, Megan Rysztak had nine digs and Lauren Johnson had 22 assists for the Gladiators. Phillips led St. Francis with 19 kills and also posted 16 assists in her final game in a Gladiators volleyball uniform.

“Being my last year and this being the last time all these girls will be together is (difficult),” Phillips said through teary eyes. “I wouldn’t trade a single second of it. I love those girls, and not seeing each other every day will be the hardest part. We have made so many memories, and it has been a great season for us so we can’t be too sad about it, but it stings a little.

“We fought, but it wasn’t enough.”

Phillips, Libby Bradfield and Alayna Anderson are the departing seniors for an otherwise young and talented St. Francis squad. Jones feels positive about the future of the program.

“We had fun this year. We have some goofy girls and we laugh a lot,” Jones said. “We had our ups and downs, but we have a lot of talent. Juliana is a huge asset to this team. We’ll miss her. I feel good about this team going forward as volleyball players and as women.”


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