GLADSTONE - The Escanaba Eskymos have come tantalizingly close to ending an unwelcome streak on the volleyball court to their arch-rival a few times over the last few years. Thursday evening had to be the most frustrating of all.
Frustrating because this was one of the best performances the Eskymos have given on the volleyball court in recent years, and yet, it still wasn't enough.
The young and still raw Gladstone Braves, going through a learning curve, mustered enough heart to make sure Esky's effort went for naught, winning the night 3-2 (25-20, 23-25, 18-25, 25-21, 18-16).
Keith Shelton | Daily Press
Lexi Hongisto (5) is mobbed by her Gladstone teammates after the Braves won the fifth and final set against Escanaba 18-16 Thursday at Gladstone. Hongisto led the Braves with 13 kills.
It was as close as volleyball matches come and it ended up being anybody's match right down to the last few tense points of the fifth set.
Gladstone led the final set 12-9 but Esky answered, tying it up at 12-12. After a time-out Gladstone went up 14-12, but Esky surged ahead 15-14. With the game on the line, the teams traded points but with the score tied 16-16, Gladstone mustered the final two points of the set.
Escanaba coach Bron Harmon described what happened during the final points of the set.
Escanaba - Holly Ettenhofer (6 kills, 5 aces); Kamille Fritz (8 kills); Ashley Cook (14 digs); Sydney Gafner (9 digs); Alliyah Edwards (10 kills, 14 digs); Kathryn Wellman (2 blocks); Jade Heliin (8 digs).
Gladstone - Ashley Berthaume (9 kills, 5 assists, 12 digs); Summer Demeuse (8 kills); Lexi Hongisto (13 kills, 3 aces, 2 blocks); Grace Zimmermann (28 digs); Callie Jensen (4 kills, 27 assists, 3 aces, 22 digs).
"I think I've got a young squad and we panicked just a bit at the end there," she said. "It's so close, and it's Gladstone, and there's people here. But, it's OK. The girls will be alright."
Escanaba hasn't beaten Gladstone in a dual-meet since the 2007 season, though the Eskymos did beat the Braves during The Rock Invitational tournament on Saturday.
"This was by far the best match that we've played. Definitely, for both teams," said Harmon. "We had a great crowd here, especially on a night when the Packers game is on TV."
Braves libero Grace Zimmermann, one of only three seniors on the team was outstanding on the back end, compiling 28 digs, helping to seal the victory for Gladstone.
"It feels amazing," she said of winning in dramatic fashion. "It's always fun to play against your most competitive rival, but it's always fun to win too.
"(Escanaba) is pretty good, they're tough competition for us and we had to play our best game against them."
Escanaba captured the momentum in the second set, overcoming an 8-0 service run by Callie Jensen that gave the Braves a 13-7 lead. Esky captured the set 25-23 and carried that energy over to the third set, where they went up 9-4 and never looked back.
Esky was led by senior Alliyah Edwards who compiled 10 kills and 14 digs. Ashley Cook also had 14 digs.
The Eskymos led 18-15 in the fourth set but couldn't close out the Braves as a late 4-0 run gave Gladstone a slim 19-18 lead that they didn't relinquish.
However, for Braves coach Liz Gendron the fifth set was always in doubt.
"I thought we were going to get unfocused and our passing was going to cost us," she said. "I got down in a passing position, down really low, just to remind them to watch the ball come in. Because Esky has some great servers. WHen I saw that first pass come in beautifully though, I knew it was OK.
"It's so fun when you have so much back-and-forth. That's what makes the memories."
Sophomore Lexi Hongisto led the Braves with 13 kills. Ashley Berthaume had nine kills and Summer Demeuse has eight. Jensen racked up four kills and 27 assists with three aces and 22 digs.
"Ashley had probably the best match of her career," said Gendron. "She's worked hard in a new spot on the weakside, which she's never played before. Grace Zimmermann really struggled in the beginning of the season and she's been frustrated at times, but she really improved today.
"I hope (the win) puts a lot of confidence in our kids. Being a young team, they don't have a lot of confidence yet, so hopefully this will instill some in them.
Gendron said the young Braves still have a lot to learn, but she likes the progress she sees.
"It's a learning curve. They're playing a faster paced game on varsity and they have to keep their minds focused and look forward to what's going to happen next," she said. "We're doing much better, but we still need to transition off the net better so we can setup our offense quicker. We're still running a high set and we've got to speed that up. Our passing has greatly improved and we're progressing."
On Saturday, Escanaba will play in the Articatz Invitational in Marquette Saturday while Gladstone travels to the Clintonville Invitational.