RAPID RIVER - A Class D district volleyball opener couldn't have started much better for the Superior Central Cougars Tuesday night.
Superior Central took the first two sets and needed to win just one more to get past the Munising Mustangs.
The ending, however, was even better for Munising as it rallied for a stunning 3-2 (22-25, 23-25, 25-18, 25-25, 15-10) triumph over the Cougars.
Rapid River players celebrates after defeating Big Bay de Noc Tuesday night. The Rockets will advance to Thursday’s Class D District final against Munising.
"We were real excited after winning the fourth set," said Munising freshman Marissa Immel, whose spike ricocheted off Superior Central's Emilee Lintula for a kill and an insurmountable 14-10 advantage in the fifth set. "We had a lot of momentum going into the fifth set, although the thought of the last set going up to only 15 points made me a little nervous."
The victory sends the Mustangs into Thursday's title contest against host Rapid River.
Rapid River eliminated the Big Bay de Noc Black Bears 25-14, 25-23, 25-19 in Tuesday's nightcap.
Rapid River - S. Gould (five kills, three blocks), J. Miller (five kills, three blocks); Stenlund (four kills); Anderson (three kills), Moss (two kills, five digs); H. Kanyuh (two kills, four digs); Micheau (five digs).
Big Bay de Noc - Sundling (10 kills, one ace); Yonker (two kills); Miotke (two aces); LaLonde (one ace).
Superior Central - Tyner (13 pionts, five aces, eight kills, nine digs); Bray (11 points, four aces, 36 assists, two digs); Pasanen (10 points, four aces, four kills, four assists, five digs); E. Lintula (seven points, two aces, seven digs); Wells (three points, nine digs); Emard (two points, one ace, 12 kills, three blocks, one dig); Freberg (one ace, 23 kllls, one assist, 18 digs).
"I think watching Munising and Superior Central play to the death got our girls fired up," said Rockets' coach Lisa Kanyuh. "With this being the end of the season, we have nothing to lose. We went four sets with Big Bay during the regular season. Our goal tonight was to take them out in three. Big Bay is a scrappy team. If you give them an inch, they'll take a mile."
Munising, with four freshmen on its roster, trailed 4-2 in the final set.
Immel then provided a kill for a sideout, trimming Munising's deficit to 4-3, and senior Caitlyn McConnaughey hit five straight service points to put the Mustangs ahead to stay (8-4).
"Caitlyn kept getting her serves in and we were real confident at that point," said Immel. "After losing the first two, we knew this could be our last match. But we never got down on ourselves all year. We just pulled together and fought through it."
Munising's rally wasn't all that surprising to coach Josh Cole.
"We have a scrappy, scrappy defense," said Cole, a 2001 Gladstone High School graduate. "We find ways to scratch and claw our way back. The key was to keep them off balance after the second set. Marissa had an awesome night. Her offense had been struggling lately, but tonight she really stepped up.
"My biggest thing was to motivate our four freshmen. Yet, they were able to find ways to motivate themselves. This is the first time we've gone to a Game 5. I wasn't sure how the girls would react, but they all stepped up."
The loss was excruciating for the Cougars, who shared this year's Central U.P. Conference title with Munising.
"This is hard for the kids, the seniors especially," said Cougars' coach Kris Bray. "It was ours to have, only we weren't serve receiving real well in the third set. We were tipping and pushing the ball and they were digging it up. They were waiting for us to make mistakes. Our girls were ready to go, but give (Munising) credit. They dug down and we couldn't finish them off."
Cougars' senior Teslyn Tyner hit 13 service points, including five straight in the second set. She also collected five aces, eight kills and five digs. Classmate Vanessa Freberg contributed 23 kills and 18 digs. Sophomore Ally Bray added 11 points, four aces and 36 assists and senior Brooke Pasanen had 10 points and four aces.
"We had our ups and downs, but still had a successful season," said Bray. "One player (Mikayla Barrows) moving away threw off our chemistry a little. It took us a little while to adjust, but we overcame that. Vanessa picked up the slack in the front row."
In the nightcap, Rapid River sophomore Shannon Gould finished with five kills and three blocks. One of her blocks gave the Rockets an insurmountable 23-17 advantage in the third set.
Senior Josie Miller also collected five kills and three blocks and Savannah Stenlund had four kills.
"Shannon did a real good job in the middle and Maddy (Moss) did a nice job running our offense," said Kanyuh. "Overall, this was a great effort by our team. We'll need to come out just as strong and hold on to that consistency against Munising. They're a young team and run that 5-1 (offense). Much depends on how our girls react to their tipping. We also need to pass and run our offense."
Senior Samantha Sundling led Big Bay with 10 kills and an ace.
"This is a hard night for Sammi," said Big Bay coach Gail DeMars. "She loves the game and plays it very well. We started slow, then decided to change our lineup. We were more competitive after the first set. The girls played hard all night and we got a lot of help from our two sophomores (Valerie Miotke and Courtney Damon) who came up from jayvees. This was a fun year. We were in so many close games (sets)."