Calumet beats Houghton in 4 sets to advance to district championship

From left, Celia Kiilunen, Lea Bjorn, Brooke Kariniemi, Amber Johnson and Niina Anderson celebrate after defeating Houghton in the fourth set of a district semifinal in Calumet. (Bryce Derouin/Daily Mining Gazette)

CALUMET — As Calumet captured district volleyball titles in each of the last four seasons, it was fair for locals to wonder just how many of those championships could have gone differently if it were not for a few students that kept the Houghton Gremlins above the Class C enrollment threshold.

After all, Houghton won Class B district titles in three of those four seasons and sat 14 miles away as Calumet dominated its district without its longtime perennial rival to challenge the Copper Kings.

But now, in 2017, there’s no need for any “What if?” scenarios.

Calumet defeated Houghton for the fourth time this season, winning in four sets (25-12, 16-25, 25-14, 25-20) Wednesday in a Class C district semifinal in Calumet. The much-anticipated postseason matchup between the two rivals was the first since 2012.

“It’s tough to beat a good opponent four times,” Calumet coach Matt Laho said. “We knew we had to come out and start fast and play aggressive. I thought we did a good job of that.”

No trophy was awarded Wednesday, but the contest was treated as an unofficial match to determine the U.P.’s top team. The Copper Kings certainly celebrated that way, leaping high into each other’s arms as if they were going for a kill before crashing to the floor together in a dog pile.

“I don’t think we meant for that to happen,” Calumet senior Lea Bjorn said of the celebration. “We kind of just fell over.”

Once they gathered themselves and exchanged a few more hugs, the Copper Kings ran back to the locker room and composed themselves — because they haven’t won anything, yet. They’ll go for their sixth consecutive district title tonight at 7 p.m. in Calumet when they host Chassell.

“The girls did a great job in the locker room of how important it is that we still have work to take care of,” Laho said. “This was a great win, but we have to keep moving on with our goals to get to Battle Creek and win a state championship.”

The majority of Calumet’s roster was a part of last year’s group that made it to the state semis. Playing in front of a packed gym with raucous student sections, they appeared to handle the moment better than a Houghton team that committed 33 unforced errors.

“In the first set, we had 14 unforced errors,” Houghton coach John Christianson said. “You can’t do that against a quality team. They’re going to bury you.

“I think to some extent, we were a little overhype and had trouble controlling the ball. It wasn’t as much nerves as I thought we were over-jacked up and weren’t in control of ourselves. And Calumet, to their credit, played well. They served tough to us.”

The Copper Kings recorded six aces in the opener to blow the set open. Bjorn recorded consecutive aces for a 9-6 lead, while sophomore Molly Larson made it 13-7 on back-to-back aces before adding a third for a 15-7 advantage. Senior Brea Johnson made it 17-9 on Calumet’s final ace of the set.

“We did a lot of scouting and knew where we wanted to serve,” Laho said. “The girls did a great job of putting the ball where we talked about.”

The second set played exactly like the first, except this time it was the Copper Kings making error after error while Houghton’s crisp passing never allowed Calumet to generate any offensive momentum.

Following lopsided sets, the two rivals appeared likely to go five sets for the third time this year. Then, Calumet just took over, like it has in every other dual match this season and each district tournament over the last six years.

With a 12-11 lead in the third set, Calumet went on a 13-3 run to close the match as Houghton’s errors caught up with the team once again.

“We know that if we disregard the dumb errors we make, we shouldn’t lose this game,” said Bjorn, who led Calumet with 14 kills. “Everyone knows how everybody else can play, so we just tell each other that if we play our best game, we should be good.”

Calumet eventually earned a 16-8 lead in the fourth after one of 10 kills from junior Celia Kiilunen. It was also Kiilunen who came through on the match-deciding point with another hard-swinging kill that sent the Blue and White into a frenzy.

“(Celia) has great vision of the court,” Laho said. “She’s our best hitter at being able to see the court and find the empty spot.”

Defensively, senior Amber Johnson led Calumet with 35 digs. Brea Johnson dished out 18 assists.

For Houghton, senior Kendra Monette led the way with 10 kills and 26 digs. Senior Jada Markham added six kills, senior Kiley Farrey had five kills and senior Harlee Forberg and sophomore Daityn Markham each had four kills.

Senior Madi Dillinger led Houghton with 19 digs, and senior Mackenzie Klein finished with 27 assists.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *

Starting at $4.62/week.

Subscribe Today