Back to Battle Creek!
By JOHN VRANCIC
For The Daily News
MANISTIQUE – The Forest Park Trojans came out like a house on fire Tuesday night as they stormed past the Brimley Bays 25-8, 25-14, 25-17 in a Class D state quarterfinal volleyball match.
“We put a lot of energy on the floor and that’s when we play our best,” said Forest Park senior Lexi Gussert, who collected 11 kills, two service aces and three digs. “We have experience. We’ve been here (in the quarterfinals) the past four years. They (Brimley) are a great team. They brought a lot of fans just as we did, which made it exciting.”
The victory sends the Trojans to the semifinals in Battle Creek, where they’ll face Battle Creek St. Phillip Thursday at 2:45 p.m. (Central).
This marked Brimley’s inaugural quarterfinal appearance and the first time two Upper Peninsula teams met this deep into the state tournament.
Gussert, a Michigan State basketball recruit, had three kills for sideouts and hit both of her aces early in the first set as Forest Park built a 10-4 lead.
Later in the opener, senior Kendra Campbell added a six-point service run to put the Trojans up 20-7 and Gussert’s block on junior Kitty Breen ended that set.
“We just couldn’t serve receive,” said Brimley coach Lisa Moran. “We had an off night passing, which made it hard for our setters. The girls were in shock in the first game. Lexi hit a couple big ones our girls just froze. They were tough servers and we didn’t execute.”
The second set offered more of the same as Forest Park grabbed an 8-2 lead on back-to-back aces by sophomore Libby Shamion.
“We knew little bit about Brimley,” said Forest Park coach Kim Bjork. “We knew if we served well they would have a tough time receiving. We also knew if we could get their taller girls away from the action, we had a pretty good chance.”
Brimley responded with a 9-3 run, tying the score at 11 on two straight kills by 6-foot-3 senior middle hitter Hana Vesela, an exchange student from the Czech Republic.
“Facing their tall girl was good preparation for the semifinals because we’re going to see a lot of tall girls downstate,” said Gussert. “I thought we did a good job hitting the corners.”
The Bays then committed a two-hit violation, enabling Forest Park to regain the lead for the remainder of that set.
In the third set, Brimley grabbed an 11-6 advantage on a kill by senior Kourtney St. Peter and still owned a 12-9 cushion following a kill by classmate Tabitha Graham.
Forest Park, however, scored the next four points and gained a 13-12 lead on an ace by Shamion.
That run was followed by a few exchanges of sideouts, leaving the score tied at 15.
The Trojans, taking advantage of three hitting miscues, then scored five unanswered points for an insurmountable 20-15 advantage.
“We missed some serves in the third set and they definitely challenged us,” said Bjork. “All of the girls were contributing and they fought back. Everything looked good tonight. Our schedule got a little more difficult late in the season and we had to play a little harder. We also had a chance to scrimmage Calumet, which was huge.”
Junior Kelsi Hendrickson hit four aces, including a pair that clipped the top of the net and appeared to catch the Bays off guard. Shamion also had four aces to go with two kills, an assist and four digs.
“Our serving was huge tonight and Kelsi pretty much kept the momentum on our side,” said Bjork. “I think (junior) Adele Isaacson is the most positive girl in the world. She brings that energy that kind of carries over to the rest of the girls, and our setter (sophomore) Maria Stankewicz did a nice job distributing the ball.”
Stankewicz finished with 14 assists and Isaacson had three kills.
Vesela led the Bays with six kills and five assists. Tabitha Graham added five kills and three blocks and senior Alyssa Graham had five kills and four digs.
“The outcome of this match doesn’t take away from getting this far,” said Moran. “We told the girls not to hang their heads. We had a great season. Only, nerves got to us tonight.”
Forest Park – Gussert (11 kills, two aces, three digs); Isaacson (three kills, one dig); Shamion (two kills, four aces, one assist, four digs); Campbell (two kills, four aces, three digs); Stankewicz (two kills, one ace, 14 assists, three digs); Steiro (two kills, one dig); Hendrickson (four aces); Marinoff (five digs).
Brimley – Vesela (six kills, five blocks); T. Graham (five kills, three blocks); A. Graham (five kills, four digs); St. Peter (one kill, five assists); Kelly (four assists, three digs).