HANCOCK – With the Copper Spike on the line Thursday night at Hancock Gym, the Houghton Gremlins and Hancock Bulldogs volleyball teams brought a lot of buzz, on the court, and in the stands. As Brynn Arko hit the bottom of the Bulldogs net at the end of the fourth set, the Gremlins players took to the court to celebrate a four-set victory, 24-26, 27-25, 25-23, and 26-24.
Three weeks ago, the Bulldogs defeated the Gremlins at Houghton Stadium in three sets. Thursday night was much different, according to Hancock coach Kristan Coleman.
“I can tell you that Houghton stepped up and played a different game than he did before,” he said. Their defense was exceptional. They were getting a piece of everything, chasing everything down, and they didn’t give up.
Houghton coach Blaire Zenner couldn’t help but smile as she took a shot at herself, trying to cool down after the game. He felt his team’s performance against the Bulldogs last week in the WestPAC tournament was a good way to practice Thursday.
“We saw them in the WestPAC Tournament, and we knew they were going to be tough for us. So, mentally we had to be ready and focused, and I know every point counts, especially against a team like Hancock. They’re smart, they’re aggressive, they find a way to get the ball down.
“So, we knew that going into Saturday, and it really helped us try to find opportunities, and ways, to make plays maybe outside of what we’ve been doing, and that’s what happened today. We found a way to find holes and be aggressive at the net.”
Led by the aggressive play of senior midfielders Danica Ryynanen, who had seven kills and five blocks, and Sophia Neves, who had nine kills and a team-high 11 blocks, the Gremlins made every play at the net difficult for the Bulldogs. .
“I thought, well, we had a lot of blocks,” Zenner said. “We were digging the ball better, reading the floor, not letting them get a lot of tips and rolls, and the points we were allowing them before.”
The first set was tied at 1-1, 2-2, until 12-12 before Hancock’s Reese Driscoll had two aces. The junior helped Hancock jump ahead 19-13, but Houghton battled back, forcing extra points at 24-24.
Hancock junior Brooke Koskela provided the final point for Hancock with a diving performance that put Houghton back on its heels. While Hancock won the set, the fact that Houghton pushed it to extra points was important to Zenner’s team.
“It was very important to us,” he said. “I always tell my team, ‘You have to play one point at a time. That’s it, one point. That’s all it takes.’ Someone has to make a mistake. We can’t let our mistakes outweigh all the points we’re scoring, and just try to find different ways to score. Being aggressive, and playing smart, that’s the name of the game for us. Finding ways to fight back. Not giving them easy free points or free balls, but being very smartly aggressive.”
As the match wore on, Houghton fell behind by several points, fought back, fell behind by several points, stormed back to take the lead, and so on. Coleman felt that, at times during the game, his team struggled with the noise of the gym, and this made communication difficult, between each other and their coach. At the same time, Houghton continued to hit Hancock’s big hits, turning the hits into points of their own instead.
“They chased us,” said Coleman. “I think they outplayed us. I can’t say we didn’t care. We did. We were chasing balls, but we let a lot of balls fall without jumping and coming out with them. I feel like they gave 110% and we gave 90%. So it was a really good combination. They were two good teams playing today, and a fun game to watch, not a lot of training.”
Houghton’s defense was sparked by the efforts of senior libero Clea Ollanketo, who had 30 digs in the match. Junior setter Laney Johnson was also outstanding for the Gremlins, with 14 digs, 29 assists, and four aces.
Zenner liked the effort Johnson gave throughout the night, as he found ways to penetrate all areas of the game.
“He’s been an important part of us,” said Zenner. “This is his second year on varsity, so we’re seeing a lot from him this season, and we’re expecting a lot from him. Stability from the back line. Attacking when he can up front. Just making smart plays on the ball, knowing what kind of ball he’s going to get, and who to put it on. , reading the other side, and knowing where it is, the protectors, all kinds of things.”
Offensively, Houghton was led by the efforts of Arko, who had seven kills, four aces, nine digs, and 11 blocks. Zenner said the senior right-handed hitter has developed into a player who can drive the Gremlins’ offense in big moments.
“He’s a strong, brave player for us, and he’s very smart,” Zenner said. “He sees the court, he understands the game well, and every time we want the ball to happen, he’s a playmaker, because he sees everything, and he can make plays for us.”
Although the Gremlins played well defensively, Koskela led all hitters with 22 kills. She also had 10 digs. Senior middle hitter Brielle Kero had 12 kills, four aces, 13 digs, and seven blocks.
CALUMET LOOMS FOR BULLDOGS
After his team lost at home, Coleman felt his team needed to hold their heads high as they prepare to face Calumet on Tuesday.
“Houghton came out and played a really good game today against us, and I commend them for that,” he said. “I would love to join them, because it’s a good fight for us.
“But, I think now, when we get in, we have Calumet on Tuesday, and then we go to districts.”
Coleman said his team will be able to overcome any obstacles in their game before opening the regional tournament, and he is grateful for the opportunity.
“So, even though this is a difficult loss for my players, for the sake of competition, we will go back and break the film,” he said. “This has really shown where our weaknesses are, and now we have a week to try to improve.”
YOU ARE FOLLOWING
The Bulldogs travel north to face the Copper Kings on Tuesday. The opening ceremony is scheduled for 6:30 pm
The Gremlins have two more games left before the regionals. They host West Iron County on Tuesday at 6:30 pm and then host Kingsford on Thursday.