Prep volleyball: Eagles put GNC hurt on Esky

ESCANABA – Stephenson served notice it intends to be a force to be reckoned with in the Great Northern Conference Thursday night, handing Escanaba a 26-24, 25-20, 25-20 volleyball loss.

The Eagles, who also won at Gladstone last week, are 2-0 in Delta County and the GNC.

“Stephenson has a good team,” said Esky coach Theresa Heidt. “They looked wonderful tonight.”

Stephenson hosts Bark River-Harris in a non-conference match-up Tuesday before hosting Menominee in a key league match Thursday.

Esky, now 0-3 in the GNC, will try to regroup prior to The “Rock” Invitational at Gladstone on Saturday.

The Eskymos, behind an eight-point service run by junior Alyssa Polequin, built a 9-1 advantage in the third set. Three straight hitting errors by Esky, however, enabled the Eagles to trim their deficit to 9-4.

Esky still led 14-7 in the finale. But Stephenson then got a sideout and sophomore Karlina Johnson hit five straight service points to pull the Eagles within 14-13, a run climaxed on a kill by senior middle hitter Lexi Johnson.

“That run definitely helped us,” said Stephenson coach Sara Johnson. “We also didn’t have any serving errors in the third set, which played a big part. At times our passing seemed to be a little off. We didn’t hit as hard as I thought we would, but the girls were very resourceful.”

The Eagles eventually gained a 17-16 lead on a net violation and ran their advantage to 23-17 on another kill by Lexi Johnson.

“Lexi has that killer instinct,” said coach Johnson. “She wants a kill on every play. She also knows when to mix it up. She’s a very smart player.

“It was exciting to see our girls come back and win that third set. I honestly feel they were determined to not let the ball drop in the back row like it did in the first two sets.”

Esky climbed within 23-20 on a kill by senior Jade Heliin, but was unable to get any closer.

“We beat ourselves with missed serves,” said Heidt. “A lack of communication and their two big middle hitters also hurt us.”

Stephenson collected six kills in the second set, including four straight by Lexi Johnson while building a 7-1 advantage.

Esky rallied to take a 14-12 lead, forcing the Eagles to use a time-out.

Stephenson then scored the next five points, two coming on kills by senior middle hitter Lindsey Borski, for a 17-14 cushion.

The Eskymos pulled within 20-19 on an ace by senior Sydney Gafner, but were unable to regain the lead.

In Game 1, the score was tied at 24, but a hitting error and a net violation foiled the Eskymos in the end.

Esky played without senior middle hitter Morgan Verbrigghe, who’s out with appendicitis.

“This has been a big adjustment, especially for our setters,” said Heidt. “We’re still trying to adjust. We’re trying to find some chemistry on our team.”

Gafner led Esky with five kills. Senior Kamille Fritz and junior Jessica Gill added four each. Senior libero Ashley Cook collected 23 assists.

“Ashley, I think, is one of the better liberos in the U.P.,” said Heidt. “She dug up a lot of ball tonight. I though Aalysiah Spencer played a smart match and placed the ball well and Alyssa Polequin is a strong, consistent server.”

For Stephenson, Lexi Johnson finished with 11 kills, including eight in the second set, and senior outside hitter Brett DeMille added a pair in the third. Karlina Johnson hit three aces and sophomore libero Kelsey Johnson had 17 digs.

The Esky jayvees won 25-15, 25-17.