KINGSFORD - For most of Saturday, the Gladstone Braves were able to find ways to win volleyball matches in the Kingsford Invitational.
The one team they couldn't beat in their season-opener, however, was Houghton.
Gladstone, which fell to Houghton 26-24, 25-16 in pool play, bowed again to the Gremlins 25-14, 25-14 in the semifinals.
North Dickinson’s Kristin Luedtke (9) and Gladstone’s Hilary Austin (23) battle at the net in Saturday’s Kingsford Invitational volleyball tournament. (Ron Steckel photo)
Calumet then retained its title by topping the Gremlins 25-23, 25-22.
Strong play at the net by Cori Nichols was among several reasons why the Braves struggled against Houghton.
"She (Nichols) mixed things up very well," said Braves' coach Liz Gendron. "We were back on our heels and weren't focused by the end of the day. We were juggling the back row around, trying to find the right combination on defense. Unforced errors hurt us. We also missed too many serves."
Gladstone reached the semifinals by outlasting Marquette 25-20, 22-25, 15-13. Jessie Gagnon's kill sealed the verdict for the Braves, who nearly lost a 13-8 lead in the deciding game.
The Braves, who opened with a 25-18, 25-17 triumph over North Dickinson, beat Iron Mountain 25-17, 26-24 in their final pool play match and swept the Mountaineers in a playoff opener.
Gladstone's Andria Nyenhuis hit seven service aces, including two straight to close Game 1 against Marquette. She also had 17 kills, four blocks and 29 digs.
Mackenzie Shepeck added 10 kills, a block, two aces and 10 digs. Rebecca Mayo collected nine kills, six blocks and three digs.
Gagnon finished with nine kills, three aces and 19 digs and Hillary Austin had 45 assists, two aces and 20 digs.
"For the first day of competition, we actually didn't do too bad," said Gendron. "I thought our three sophomores played extremely well. Mackenzie, for a sophomore, did great. I see a lot of positives coming from this team."
l Escanaba reached the quarterfinals where it bowed to Kingsford 25-22, 25-17.
The Eskymos led 8-4 in Game 2 before kills by Jaime Roberts and Jordan Zeni ignited Kingsford's comeback.
"We gave them too many service runs," said Esky coach Kim Matthews. "Kingsford had excellent ball control, though. They were working very well with their setter. We knew they'd be a tough match."
Esky gained its quarterfinal berth by eliminating Hancock 25-23, 25-17. In pool play, Esky topped Norway (25-18, 25-17), split with Marquette (24-26, 27-25) and bowed to Calumet (25-22, 25-18).
A four-point service run by Trina Pearson helped the Eskymos gain a 15-9 advantage and control of the second game against Hancock.
Esky's Alyssa Rogers collected seven aces and Pearson added five. Rogers also led at the net with 20 kills and five blocks. Delta Zoch added 11 kills and two blocks and Pearson had 10 kills. Casey Bink distributed 15 assists and Kristen Warstler had 14.
Zoch led the Eskymos on defense with 34 digs. Brooke Milkiewicz had 15.
"This was a testing day for us," said Matthews. "We put everybody in against Calumet because we wanted the girls to experience playing against a fast-attacking team. We were also switching setters because we have four or five on the team. It was important to get them in and see what they can do.
"We had good ball movement, only we probably could have had better attacker identification. We also need to be more aggressive on defense."