GLADSTONE - The Escanaba volleyball team continued to show signs of improvement Saturday, reaching the semifinals of "The Rock" Invitational where it dropped a 25-14, 27-25 decision to Houghton.
"Today was our best overall performance this season," said Esky coach Bron Harmon. "We were consistent. It was intimidating playing Houghton at first. It was like we "can't believe we're playing them." Then, we had a much better performance in the second game. We were just glad to get out of pool play. We're making progress."
Houghton then became the first school to win the event three consecutive years by outlasting Marquette 24-26, 25-12, 25-21.
Paul Gerard photo
Escanaba’s Holly Ettenhofer (4) sets the ball for Kamille Fritz (5) who prepares to spike the ball as Mackenzie Pardonnet (2) and Ashley Berthaume (3) of Gladstone defend, during The Rock volleyball tournament Saturday at Gladstone.
With Houghton's three-peat came the retirement of the rock, meaning meet officials will search for a new rock for next year's tournament.
"In some ways this is the most satisfying of the three in that we set a goal to become the first team to win it three times in a row," said Houghton coach John Christianson. "To achieve that is particularly satisfying for the girls."
Esky gained a 25-24 lead on a hitting error in its second set with Houghton. The Gremlins then got a sideout and secured the decision on back-to-back aces by junior Mackenzie Hietala.
Escanaba - Heliin (six aces, seven kills, five digs); Edwards (five aces, 16 kills, eight digs); Cook (five aces, 22 digs); Ettenhofer (13 kills, 37 assists, 12 digs); Gafner (nine kills, seven digs); Spencer (seven kills).
Rapid River - A. Kanyuh (16 assists, seven digs); Stropich (three aces); Stenlund (seven kills); Brockway (six kills); Kerstner (four kills).
The Eskymos reached the semifinals by placing second in their pool. They opened with a 26-24, 25-15 triumph over Gladstone, then fell to Gwinn (25-16, 25-20). Esky bounced back by topping Hancock (25-16, 25-15) before splitting with Westwood (20-25, 27-25).
"Starting with two wins over Gladstone was huge," said Harmon. "Then, we kind of fell apart against Gwinn. Our two wins over Hancock were also huge. Those raised our energy level. I'm very pleased with the effort the team gave today. We're continuing to make improvements in our offense. When our serving stays strong, our game comes together."
Esky junior Jade Heliin hit six service aces. Senior Alliyah Edwards and senior Ashley Cook had five each.
Edwards also collected 16 kills. Senior Holly Ettenhofer added 13 kills and 37 assists and Cook had 22 digs.
Following its opener, Gladstone split with Gwinn (22-25, 25-18) and fell to Hancock (25-22, 25-21) and Westwood (25-22, 27-25).
"Our first game with Escanaba was back and forth," said Gladstone coach Liz Gendron. "The girls played very well, then we gave the second game away. We started the day slow, but made a few defensive adjustments against Gwinn that seemed to work. The biggest thing is we're lacking communication. We're looking for somebody to step up and take a leadership role. I thought Breanne Aird really stepped up. She made a new impact today."
A five-point service run by junior Callie Jensen helped Gladstone gain a 23-20 lead in its second game against Westwood. The Braves were then outscored 7-2 through the remainder of that set.
In the previous set, the Braves led 22-20. The Patriots, however, then got a sideout and secured that game with four straight points by senior Alexandra Sandin.
The Braves host Esky Thursday.
Victories were absent for Rapid River, which bowed to Ishpeming (25-11, 25-21), Marquette (25-16, 25-22), Houghton (25-11, 25-9) and Norway (25-19, 25-18).
"We played some girls who normally don't get a lot of playing time and had to call two time-outs in our first game with Norway because we were out of rotation," said Rapid River coach Lisa Kanyuh. "Yet, we needed to give them some playing them. Service errors and a lack of communication hurt us. We didn't look like the same team as Thursday night against Munising (in a 3-0 victory)."
Rapid River senior setter Averi Kanyuh collected 16 assists and seven digs. Junior Savannah Stenlund collected seven kills and senior Neena Brockway added six.
"Averi did a good job," said coach Kanyuh. "She hustled and did her best to make sets."
The Rockets, who normally run a 6-2 offense, instead played a 5-1. They were without junior setter Hannah Micheau, who was attending a wedding.
Rapid River hosts Mid Peninsula and Big Bay de Noc Tuesday.