GLADSTONE - Callie Jensen and her senior Braves teammates were not about to let this team fail.
After dropping two regular season games to Kingsford in five and four sets respectively, the Braves fended off a fourth set rally attempt and dominated the fifth, to vanquish Kingsford 3-2 (17-25, 25-16 23-25, 25-22, 15-9) in a Class B district opener, Monday night.
Third time was the charm.
Gladstone players celebrate a kill during the fifth set, Monday during a Class B?District volleyball game at Gladstone. The Braves won 3-2.
Jensen, the Great Northern Conference Co-Player of the Year, rallied her team before the fifth set and made sure the underclassmen on the team knew what was at stake.
"Us seniors, we said this is do or die right here," she said. "So we gave it our all, we left everything on the court. We didn't want to have any regrets. And it paid off."
The Braves came out a little sluggish and Kingsford rather easily pulled away in the first set. The second set was then a topsy-turvy back and forth, with six of the first seven points being decided by errors, until Gladstone broke out in a big way on a 9-0 run, with Jensen serving for eight of those points.
Gladstone then got out to a big lead in the third set, with a 7-2 start and later leading 13-7, but undaunted the Flivvers came back. Lauren Smith was a force on the outside and Maria Wiltzius was a presence up the middle. Libero Amber Larson also had a sterling game defensively. The Flivvers finally took the lead at 19-18. Gladstone led 23-22 late but Kingsford took the final three points, helped by two Braves errors.
Kingsford coach Steve Andrews said he didn't expect anything less than a close matchup in this rivalry.
"That's typical Gladstone-Kingsford volleyball," he said. "I told the girls it stinks to lose, but at least you're fighting. I can't tolerate quitting. You're going to make mistakes, but keep playing. YOu can't curl into a shell and hide."
The Braves regrouped and came out with an even bigger lead in the fourth set. After 5-0 run with Summer Demeuse serving, the Braves led 11-4 and by as much as 19-9 later on. It soon was in doubt however as the young Flivvers chipped away. Down 23-14, Kingsford went on a 6-0 run to get within three points, and after a Gladstone point, scored twice more to make it 24-22. The set ended undramatically however, after a hitting error.
Though Gladstone won the set, the Flivvers seemed to have stole the momentum going into the decisive fifth set, but Jensen and senior teammates Mackenzie Pardonnet, Demeuse, Jess Beaudry and Breanne Aird made sure that didn't happen.
"The seniors, there was a lot of things said in the huddle there," said Gladstone coach Liz Gendron. "They weren't going to give up. They wanted to make sure everyone else wasn't going to give up with them, and it showed. They outhustled. We've been lacking hustle all season and we hustled today."
Kingsford stole the first three points of the set and appeared to be on a roll, before Gladstone got a side-out and after a timeout and brought up Lexi Hongisto, who had made a couple serving errors in earlier sets. But not this time.
Hongisto got the Braves rolling on a monster 9-0 run, with Beaudry laying down the kills. Andrews was forced to use both of his time outs to slow the Braves down.
And the Flivvers fought back, and even with Gladstone needing game-point to win, Kingsford took three straight points to make it interesting, before the Braves erupted after a Beaudry kill to win it.
Andrews, despite the loss, was able to find a silver lining.
"It stinks for the seniors out there, but the underclassmen got a lot of game experience for next year," he said. "We always play in the present. I don't believe in rebuilding years, but if you lose, you have to find something good to come out of it."
Gladstone now turns its attention to Houghton. The Braves will host the Gremlins Wednesday in a district semifinal.
We're going to do some hitting (today). We're not going to change much," said Gendron. "We can't give them the same amount of missed serves and missed attacks though, because they'll capitalize. They're an experienced team, and they'll take those mistakes and run with them. But if we clean up our serves, serve a little less aggressively maybe, and as long as our hitters are hitting, we should be alright."