By John Vrancic
GLADSTONE - It was a more relaxing night than anticipated for Gladstone Monday as it cruised to a 25-18, 25-17, 25-15 volleyball triumph over shorthanded Escanaba in a Class B district opener.
Gladstone’s Lexi Hongisto tips the ball over the net as Kamille Fritz (5) of Escanaba defends during Monday’s district volleyball opener at Gladstone.
Esky, missing four starters due to training rules violations, trailed only 15-13 in the first set following a service ace by junior Kamille Fritz.
Gladstone then began to pull away, ending the opener on a four-point service run by sophomore Lexi Hongisto.
"This isn't what I expected," said Braves' coach Liz Gendron. "Some of our younger kids were nervous at first and we were a little flat-footed on defense. The ball wasn't coming over as fast as we expected and it threw off our timing. We didn't change our game plan. We just wanted to go out and be aggressive."
Gladstone - Hongisto (eight kills, one block, seven digs); Demeuse (seven kills, one ace, nine digs); Beaudry (three kills, two assists); Jensen (one kill, three aces, 20 assists, 10 digs); Aird (one kill, two aces, one assist, three digs); Pardonnet (one kill, one block); Dykowski (one kill); Zimmerman (four aces, 12 digs).
Escanaba - Gafner (four kills, three aces); Ettenhofer (four kills, two aces, three assists, five digs); Gill (four kills, four digs); Fritz (three kills, one block, three aces); Strahl (two kills, one block); Polequin (one ace, seven assists, four digs); Bruce (one ace), Cook (seven digs).
The victory enables the Braves to advance to Thursday's district final, visiting the winner of tonight's Menominee-Kingsford match.
Gladstone immediately took charge in the second set. The Braves gained a quick 4-0 lead and extended their advantage to 9-2, forcing the Eskymos to use a time-out after back-to-back serve receive errors.
"I think the end of the first game set the tone," said Esky coach Bron Harmon. "Had we been able to take the first set, we may have built a little confidence. We had quite a bit of adversity tonight, although we're proud of the way our juniors stepped up. We're disappointed in the outcame, but not the effort."
The Braves led by as much as 17-5 in the second set and opened the third on a seven-point run by junior Callie Jensen.
Gladstone senior Grace Zimmerman collected four service aces, including one during a seven-point run in Game 2. Jensen finished with three.
"Grace served awesome tonight," said Gendron. "I thought some of their girls did a good job for being thrown in a district match at the last minute, and Holly (Ettenhofer) played her tail off."
Ettenhofer finished with four kills, two aces, three assists and five digs. Junior Sydney Gafner added four kills and three aces and sophomore Jessica Gill had four kills and four digs.
"We're proud of the way our younger kids carried themselves," said Harmon. "This was a tough spot for them to be in, but they did the best they could. They showed a lot of character."
Hongisto finished with eight kills, a block, an ace and seven digs. Junior Summer Demeuse collected seven kills, an ace and nine digs and Jensen had a kill, 20 assists and 10 digs besides her aces.