Calumet rallies past Houghton, repeats as Houghton Invite champs

Bryce Derouin/Daily Mining Gazette Calumet’s Celia Kiilunen goes for a kill as Houghton’s Deja Brule prepares to jump for a block, Saturday, at Houghton. Calumet won in three sets.

HOUGHTON — For the past three seasons, no local volleyball team has delivered more clutch moments than the Calumet Copper Kings. Whether it’s been a kill, dig or a game-changing ace, Calumet has consistently found ways to rally.

On Saturday, the five-time defending regional champs added another chapter to its impressive catalog of comebacks.

Just two points away from losing the title match to the Houghton Gremlins in the Houghton Invite, Calumet rallied to take the second set, 25-23, before dominating the third set, 15-5, to repeat as tournament champions in Houghton.

“I try to coach them to understand that they have to have confidence in this game, never focus on errors and to always look ahead,” Calumet head coach Matt Laho said. “We just have to do what we do well and keep doing it. Even if we make a few mistakes, we just have to play our own game.”

The decisive moment came when Calumet senior Lea Bjorn broke the 23-all tie in the second set with one of her powerful match-high 16 kills. Bjorn once again swung viciously for the set-deciding point, scoring to give Calumet the momentum it would need in the third set.

“You could see that Lea was going to take the match over — and she did,” Houghton head coach John Christianson said. “I told my girls, ‘She’s just jumping higher than you and hitting over the top of you. There’s not a lot you’re going to do about that.'”

“It was perfect; we needed it,” Laho said. “We hadn’t had a good contact until that point. Once she hit those two balls, it lit a fire under them, and we started playing better.”

Bjorn finished the tournament with 54 kills, helping Calumet compile an 8-0 record in pool play before defeating West Iron Country (25-10, 25-18) in the semifinals. Junior Celia Kiilunen added 21 kills, while seniors Brea Johnson (64 assists) and Niina Anderson (40 assists) facilitated the offense. Defensively, Amber Johnson led the way with 84 digs.

Following the Gremlins’ 28-26 victory in the opening set, the Copper Kings played the type of volleyball Laho expects of them, while Houghton struggled to play with the same consistency they displayed early on. Riding the momentum from Bjorn’s kills, the Copper Kings jumped out to an 8-1 advantage after a Houghton miscue, erasing any doubt about the outcome.

“We just lost our focus,” Christianson said. “We just had some critical errors in the beginning of the third set: players running into each other, indecision, swinging when we shouldn’t be, tipping when we shouldn’t be.

“It just comes down to making good decisions, and we didn’t make many good decisions in the first half of the third set.”

The finale was anti-dramatic compared to the first two, where powerful swings and last-second digs were commonplace.

With Calumet leading 26-25 in the first set, the Copper Kings recorded a dig by sticking out a foot to stop the ball from touching the floor at the last second before returning a spike, only to see Houghton swing for a dramatic point to tie the match up.

Houghton junior Deja Brule put her team ahead 27-26, and senior Frankie Stukel tallied an ace to give the Gremlins the victory.

“The first two sets I thought we were doing a good job of being aggressive,” Christianson said. “We were passing and serving well. But I did think Calumet did a good job of turning up the intensity on their serves in the third set because they got a lot more easy free-balls off of it.”

Houghton also cruised through pool play, finishing 8-0. The Gremlins defeated the Gwinn Modeltowners (25-13, 25-10) to reach the championship match.

For the tournament for Houghton, senior Kendra Monette recorded 34 kills, eight aces and 18 digs; senior Kiley Farrey had 19 kills and 21 digs; senior Jada Markham finished with 12 kills, six block kills and eight aces; senior Harlee Froberg tallied nine kills and six aces; senior Madi Dillinger had 44 digs; senior Mackenzie Klein dished out 53 assists.

Next, Calumet returns to Houghton (5-1 West-PAC) on Tuesday for a West-PAC showdown. The Copper Kings (6-0) can clinch the conference championship with a win.

Orange Pool Results

Calumet 8-0

Gwinn 6-2

Ironwood 4-4

Dollar Bay 2-6

L’Anse 0-8

Black Pool Results

Houghton 8-0

West Iron County 5-3 (2nd by head to head results vs. Chassell)

Chassell 5-3

Hancock 2-6

Baraga 0-8