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Dominant performance

Eskymos’ volleyball sweeps rival Gladstone

Austin Hemmingson | Daily Press Escanaba’s Taylor Ray (22) spikes against Gladstone’s Makayla Sanville while Esky coach Adam Lambert looks on during a Great Northern Conference volleyball game Tuesday at Escanaba. The Eskymos won the match in straight sets, 3-0.

ESCANABA — Early season game experience appeared to pay off in a big way for the Escanaba volleyball team here Tuesday.

The Eskymos, who played in Friday’s Kingsford Invitational, swept rival Gladstone 3-0 after getting off to a fast start. Esky won the first set 25-13, toughed out a 26-24 win in the second set and then set it on cruise control for a 25-16 win in the final frame.

“The players were ready,” Esky coach Adam Lambert said. “We’ve had three-hour practices and a lot of conditioning and a lot of team bonding. I took the girls whitewater rafting to help them bond on the court, and it really showed. They played as a team, they communicated and they played defense well. It’s really fun to watch them when they play as a team.”

After making it through the first set with little resistance, Esky had to rally late in the second set of the Great Northern Conference opener for both teams. The Eskymos broke a 14-14 tie on a three-point serving run by middle hitter Nicole Kamin, but the Braves rallied to knot it up at 20. A nice tip shot by Gladstone’s 6-foot-3 Megan Crow gave it a 23-21 cushion before Esky scored the next three points and hung on for a 26-24 win.

“I just had to remind the girls to play as a team,” Lambert said. “They started to play individually in that second set instead of as a team, and I just had to remind them that ‘hey, you can’t do this alone. Let’s get out there and fight and do this as a team.’ I reminded them about playing against a rival and asked them if they really wanted to have a loss against Gladstone. (I just did) the little things that had to be done and poked them where they needed to be poked.”

Esky overwhelmed the Braves with a fast start in the final frame, highlighted by an eight-point serving run by sophomore Bailey Barron.

The Braves were hampered by limited practice time leading up to the match, and Crow was just cleared to play Tuesday morning after recovering from a lateral bone bruise in her right knee that she suffered playing AAU basketball in June.

“She just got cleared this morning,” Braves’ coach Bill Lawrence said. “That was a big thing because we practiced all week for a different set of rotations. We just need to work out a couple other kinks early in the season. We have two sophomores that we just pulled up (Alissa Sanville and Jadyn Bovin), and with Megan just being pulled up we were never able to practice with her.”

Despite the loss, Lawrence was happy with what he saw in the second set.

“I think the girls were really feeling good after that,” he said. “They definitely came together at that point and they were playing really well together.”

The Eskymos (3-2-1) got big contributions from Kamin, Jalin Olson, Taylor Ray, Anna Smith and Maddy Block. Lambert expects each of them to play a key role this season.

“We’re going to expect a lot of Nicole Kamin this year,” he said. “She’s the tallest player on our team by one inch (5-11), but obviously we’re not a very tall team. We’re going to look for a strong presence with Nicole in the middle. She can really block a lot and she can really hit a lot.

“Jalin Olson is just one of those liberos that is unstoppable in the back row. She is just so good and so quick. She can read where the ball is going to go, so she’s going to have tremendous stats this year and I think she’s going to play some next-level volleyball after high school.

“Taylor Ray is really starting to hone in her aiming on her left hits, and Anna Smith is a wildfire. She’s really going to grow in her sport and she’s really getting to know when she needs to jump and hit it hard and when to hit it soft.

“Maddy Block is going to be a setter for us this year, I didn’t really give her a choice. She was a defensive specialist last year, but I told her this year it’s time to take your soft hands and use them on our sets.”

Lambert noted he thinks both teams will have strong seasons.

“It was Gladstone’s first game, so they got to shake some rust off. It’s one thing to play in practice, it’s another thing to play in a game. Their opener was against their biggest rival,” he said.

“So, we’ll see how the season goes but I think we’re going to be fantastic. I think we’ve got a lot of competition to put up against other teams this year.”

Each squad hosts Menominee in its next game, with the Braves hosting the Maroons Thursday and the Eskymos hosting Sept. 5.

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