Feeding Gremlins: Houghton needs four sets to defeat Negaunee at home Thursday

George Leinonen/For the Gazette Houghton’s Daityn Markham successfully blocks Negaunee's Larissa Anderson shot as Daityn’s teammate Jaycie Ruotsala (2) and Lissa Svoke look on.

HOUGHTON — It was a back-and-forth battle on the volleyball court Thursday night at the Houghton Gym as the Gremlins defeated the Negaunee Miners in four sets. Houghton had to fight for two of their three set victories as they won, 25-12, 25-22, 15-25, 25-23.

“I liked the first set,” said Gremlins head coach John Christianson. “We came out, and we were focused.”

At one point, their focus pushed the Gremlins to a 13-4 lead. Dominate play came from Houghton’s lanky senior Deja Brule. She was a force to be reckoned with as she came up with some big kills and key defensive blocks. She finished her night with eight kills.

Negaunee, on the other hand, was sloppy. They had trouble setting up their offense throughout the evening, and had too many missed hits. They often looked anxious to do things right and, in turn, thought too much about how they wanted to play.

“We have do better to keep control of the ball on our side of the net,” said Miners head coach Sarah MacDonald.

Between sets, she told her girls that they needed to do something different if they wanted a winning outcome. Her Miners listened as they came out with total control of the ball. Sierra Hendrickson served up a service run of 12 with three aces.

Yet the Miners let their momentum slip away once the Gremlins took over. Houghton bounced back to make it 10-14 and then eventually evened things at 18-18 with a big slam from Brule that changed the momentum for Houghton, both on the bench and in the stands.

“My girls have a switch where we know we can win on one hand, and on the other hand, a complacency where we simply do not want to lose,” said MacDonald, who is in her fourth year of coaching.

A couple of miscommunication errors by the Miners and a towering block at the net by Rachael Hall and Daityn Markham put that set away for Houghton.

In the third set, it was a back-and-forth volley to the end. Midway through the set, a big hit came from Abbie Tollefson, who pushed the Miners to a 10-7 lead and they never looked back.

“We were with them there at first,” said Christianson, “but our errors let them turn their service machine on.”

For Negaunee’s part, MacDonald noticed a stronger momentum that pushed the Miners through to the end. Larrisa Anderson was a big part of that as she had 33 assists in the match.

“She did phenomenal,” MacDonald said.

The fourth set looked a lot like the previous one. It was a tug of war as the lead fluctuated by no more than three points throughout. The ball was being bumped and pushed to every corner of the court as the fans reacted to big hits and aggressive digs. At one point, the Miners were up 18-16 only to be down 23-21 not long after. The Gremlins dumped many points over the Miners’ front line and kept them guessing.

“Again, complacency struck us and some balls fell due to miscommunication,” said MacDonald. “These girls all know what they need to do, they just need to do it.”

Houghton moved to 7-9-4 on the year with the win, and a perfect 3-0 in WestPac play. Negaunee fell to 2-5 on the year.