SAULT STE. MARIE - The Gladstone Braves and Escanaba Eskymos used their volleyball openers Saturday as a learning experience, and by that measure, it was a success.
Going 0-4 in the "pre-season" Sault Invitational means the season could be an uphill climb, but Gladstone coach Liz Gendron found plenty of positives.
"It doesn't look good in the win/loss column but we learned a great deal from the day," she said. "We started off extremely tight in the beginning, playing poorly and standing around a lot. But by bracket time, we had improved tremendously."
Gladstone fell to Houghton (21-13, 21-13), Petoskey (21-13, 21-4) and Rogers City (21-13, 21-6) in pool play and Sault (21-15, 21-18 in its bracket opener.
Esky bowed to Sault (21-5, 21-8), Brimley (21-15, 21-19) and Rudyard (21-13, 21-19) in its pool and Petoskey (25-12, 25-8) in brackets.
"In terms of win/loss record, we struggled," said Esky coach Bron Harmon. "But the kids grew up a lot on the court. In our first match, Sault was hitting on all cylinders. We figured that would be a rough match and I was fearful the girls would start thinking we're in trouble. But they responded real well after that. We played real well against Brimley. They (Brimley) have some very good athletes and they're very well coached."
Jessica Beaudry led the Braves with nine kills and three blocks. Ashley Berthaume added eight kills and Summer Demeuse had seven.
Grace Zimmermann led Gladstone on defense with 18 digs. Beaudry had 15 and Callie Jensen racked up 13.
"We made a few adjustments in our lineup and that seemed to loosen us up a bit. Our passing improved and we were becoming more confident and more aggressive," said Gendron. "Our serving was strong through the day, especailly from Ashley Berthaume. We had a few excting kills and digs and I'm seeing a lot of potential in this young group of ladies. We just need to be patient and it will come together in the end when it really counts."
The Braves are idle until Aug. 30 when they travel to Stephenson.
Esky was tied 13-13 with Brimley in the first set and at 19 in the second set. The Eskymos were also even with Rudyard at 13 in the opening set.
"We were having trouble closing out games," said Harmon. "A lot of that was the anxiety of trying to win.
"We were the shortest team there. Petoskey had a 6-foot-4 middle hitter who's heading to Michigan State next year. Obviously, that was a tough match-up for us. We certainly earned the 12 points we got in the first set. We were doing some good things. The girls played to their abilities and showed some fight in them.
"Holly Ettenhofer did a great job leading the team and Jade Heliin and Brittany Bruce played at a higher level than we expected."
Esky visits Iron Mountain Tuesday.