By Keith Shelton
ESCANABA - Nothing immediately stands out about the Stephenson Eagles. They have height, but aren't overly tall, they serve well but don't rack up a ton of aces and they're solid at net-front but they don't have a player with a particularly lethal spike.
Keith Shelton |?Daily Press
Syd Gafner of Escanaba digs the ball out during the Eskymos match against Stephenson Thursday.
What Stephenson does do well is limit mistakes while capitalizing off the other team's errors.
They certainly did that Thursday night at Escanaba, rolling to a 3-0 (25-18, 25-21, 25-16) sweep in the regular season finale for both teams.
"We've been working on it," said Eagles coach Craig Hartges. "Escanaba made a lot of errors and we played well tonight, just when we want to, getting ready for districts.
Stephenson - Squires (9 assists, 9 digs); Duprey (4 kills, 14 digs); Johnson (2 aces, 9 kills); Turcotte (10 kills, 4 blocks).
Escanaba - Cook (5 digs); Edwards (6 kills, 5 digs); Gafner (6 kills, 3 digs); Ettenhofer (12 assists).
"We fared pretty well in our tournament Saturday (Menominee County Invite) and now this, so that's how you want to end a regular season."
Escanaba seemed primed to take control of the opening set after reeling off five straight points to take a 13-8 lead, but the Eskymos gave it right back on serving and hitting errors and the Eagles didn't let up. They went on an 11-1 run powered by Allison Duprey, Lexi Johnson and Chelsea Turcotte, their leading hitters. Lexi Rasner ended the set on an ace.
The Eskymos were active at net-front as they got decent sets, but delivered the ball with too much power, resulting in far too many balls going out of bounds across the three sets.
"It's the way we've played all season. We have good passing and good sets and everybody wants to kill the ball and bomb it to the back wall," said Escanaba coach Bron Harmon. "People want to be hitters, they want to be known because they kill the ball and you can't always do that, and that's part of the maturity of learning the game and learning to be a patient hitter. You have to learn when you can kill it and when you have to keep the ball in play."
Despite the Eskymos' struggles at times, libero Ashley Cook had a noteworthy performance.
"We rate our serves on a 0-3 rating. If you were to average our serves out on the night with a 3 being the best, Ashley pass-received a 2.8 tonight. That's nearly perfect," said Harmon. "We set the ball 73 times tonight in those three games and a lot of that was initiated by Ashley Cook and that's tremendous. It was the best performance she's put up all season."
The Eagles were led in kills by Turcotte with 10. She also had four blocks, though Hartges said he expects more, saying she usually knocks the ball down considerably harder. Johnson and Danielle Squires were each perfect serving. Johnson was 17-17 while Squires was 13-13, highlighting the mostly mistake-free ball that helped the Eagles to victory.
"I think we have a great chance (in districts)," Hartges said. "We have a great opportunity, we just need to play confident. We have a lot of talent and a lot of height. As long as they can play to their potential, they can play with everybody."
Stephenson (17-13-4) travels to Newberry for the start of districts on Tuesday with the winner hosting the district final. On the other side of the bracket Manistique travels to Gwinn.
Escanaba (3-10) heads to Gladstone Monday with the winner playing at the winner of Kingsford and Menominee.