Prep volleyball; Big finish powers Braves past Esky

ESCANABA – Fans were on the edge of their seats in the Escanaba High School gym Thursday night as a pair of area volleyball teams went the full five sets in a spirited Great Northern Conference match.

A kill by senior Summer Demeuse provided Gladstone with the match-clincher as it escaped with a 3-2 (15-25, 25-21, 25-21, 25-13, 18-16) triumph over the Escanaba Eskymos.

Gladstone improved to 1-1 in the GNC, while Esky dropped to 0-4.

“The nice thing about these rivalries is they’re always great matches,” said Braves’ coach Liz Gendron. “We were lucky to come out of here with this win, very lucky.”

Esky had taken a 16-15 lead in the final set, on a kill by junior Jessica Gill.

The Eskymos, however, followed that with a serving error and a four-hit violation, setting the stage for Demeuse’s final kill.

Also, junior Quinn Powell helped Gladstone’s cause by serving for the final two points.

“Quinn hadn’t served the whole night,” said Gendron. “It was awesome for her to come in and get the last two serves in. It’s nerve-wracking for any kid to be in that situation. But I like to put our kids in that situation because it builds character and prepares them for those kinds of situations in life. Hopefully, this builds her confidence.”

Gladstone appeared to be in good shape in the finale when it gained a 14-10 advantage, forcing the Eskymos to use a time-out.

The Braves then committed a serving error and four consecutive hitting miscues and suddenly Esky was ahead 15-14.

“It’s a game of momentum and we lost focus quite a few times,” said Gendron. “We had a little trouble forgetting our mistakes and moving on. When even one girl dwells on mistakes, it tends to carry over through the whole team. When you work as a team, things go better.”

Esky trailed the entire fifth set except when it led 15-14 and 16-15.

“It takes a lot of energy, confidence and communication to come back like that,” said Esky coach Theresa Heidt. “It’s more of a mindset than physical play. Unfortunately, we beat ourselves. We just lost momentum in our passing.”

The Eskymos appeared to have the momentum after taking the fourth set.

Junior Lexi Hongisto, however, recorded a kill to open the fifth and the Braves eventually gained a 10-5 advantage.

Hongisto finished with 18 kills, two blocks, two service aces and six digs. Demeuse added 12 kills, two assists and 20 digs.

A majority of Gladstone’s kills were set up by senior Callie Jensen, who dished out 31 assists.

Jensen was also the Braves’ defensive leader with 24 digs, followed by Demeuse at 20.

“We were poor at the serving line,” said Gendron. “We had 18 missed serves, which is nearly an entire set. Obviously, we need to work on that.”

The Braves played without senior middle hitter Jessica Beaudry, who’s nursing a back injury.

Senior middle hitter Kami Fritz led the Eskymos at the net with 12 kills and a block. Classmate Syd Gafner had five kills and six aces.

Junior setter Alyssa Polequin distributed 21 assists and senior libero Ashley Cook had 27 digs.

“This was the best match I’ve seen in my five years of coaching,” said Heidt, who recently took over the varsity position and coached the jayvees for five seasons. “The girls made this gym rock. We need to improve our serving and gain confidence in our passing. When our serving was on, we did well. But when we missed serves, momentum left us.”

Esky, which won the jayvee and freshman matches in two games, travels to Marquette Thursday.

The Braves resume Tuesday when they host Menominee.