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Esky volleyball earns its first district title

Eskymos sweep Maroons on the road to win the Division 2 District 33 championship

Matt Lehmann | Marinette EagleHerald The Escanaba volleyball team celebrates with its trophy after sweeping Menominee 3-0 in the Division 2 District 33 championship Friday in Menominee.

MENOMINEE — The Menominee volleyball team couldn’t stop Escanaba from etching their name into the records books, as the Eskymos swept the Maroons 3-0 in the Division 2 District 33 championship match Friday in Menominee.

Escanaba caught fire at the net early and was backed by some excellent defense that allowed the Eskymos to close out the three games with wins of 25-13, 25-16 and 25-20.

“We were a little slow in the first game but I thought that we finished strong,” Menominee head coach Sarah Betzinger said. “I’m proud of them for digging down and not giving up. Down 2-0 they could have easily hung their heads but they didn’t. They wanted to keep playing and they fought for it. It just didn’t fall our way.”

For the Eskymos, Friday’s victory was a piece of Escanaba history.

“We checked the record books and went back twenty-some years and we haven’t found anything about us winning a district championship, so this is a first for Escanaba. That’s incredible. What the girls have done is a win for Escanaba,” Escanaba head coach Adam Lambert said.

Block-kills by Nicole Kamin and the Maroons struggles with keeping the ball in bounds helped the Eskymos take a 14-10 lead in game one. An ace by Anna Smith helped Escanaba increase its lead before Menominee fought back into the game off two points by Ashly Powell and a kill by Makenzie Wellner to make it a 22-13 score.

A great diving defensive play by Menominee’s Kylie Wickstrom was unable to keep the ball from hitting the ground and an ace by Tess Henderson ended the match in favor of the Eskymos.

Menominee knew what type of team they were facing in the Eskymos.

“They are a strong team. They work well together and they can place they ball where they want to. They’re very smart with that,” Betzinger said.

Menominee took a 4-0 lead in game two courtesy of an ace by Powell and kills by Wickstrom and Gracie Finger but a ball hit out of play and an ace by Taylor Ray put Escanaba ahead 8-7. A block-kill combo by Powell tied the game at 11-11 but the Eskymos responded with kills by Ray and Katelyn Stalboerger to take a 19-11 lead.

The Maroons battled back thanks to a kill by Wickstrom and two consecutive balls hit out of bounds by the Eskymos helped cut the deficit to 22-15. A Menominee miscommunication gave Escanaba a game-point situation that it capitalized on with a kill by Stalboerger to end the game and put the Eskymos ahead 2-0.

Lambert said his team didn’t play the aggression that had become a trademark of Escanaba volleyball.

“The intensity wasn’t there. We just sort of hit cruise control and played along. The pace wasn’t what we’re used to. We’ve seen a lot more aggression out of this team, but I’m not going to complain. A win is a win,” he said.

The two teams traded points to begin game three before back-to-back kills by Kamin gave the Eskymos a 4-2 lead. Wickstrom and Wellner got Menominee back into the game with kills and another kill by Powell gave the Maroons a 10-9 advantage.

With the game tied at 17-17 the Maroons took the lead off a kill by Wellner, but a block by Ray and a ball hit into the net put Escanaba ahead 20-19. An ace by Ray and a kill by Smith sealed the game and the sweep for Escanaba.

“These girls are so excited. They’ve been building this program for years to get to where we’re at today,” Lambert said. “We talked about the postseason since tryouts and here we are. I saw the talent and the athleticism of the team and I told them that if they could bond and play together, we’d have a terrific postseason.”

Betzinger said that the Maroons’ inspired play in game three was a direct result of her team taking matters into their own hands.

“Attitude. They decided that was the attitude they wanted to walk onto the court with,” she said. “We hit well. Our movement came around in the last game and the girls took the lead tonight. They talked to each other and figured out how to adjust as the game went on.”

Lambert said that the Maroons are a team on the rise.

“They’re coached well. They’re building their program and the talent is getting better,” he said.

Powell had a terrific all-around game for Menominee, tallying five kills, five blocks, an ace and one dig. Wickstrom chipped in four kills, an ace and a dig, Wellner had five kills and two blocks while Liz Nerat recorded an assist.

The Eskymos were led by Kamin, who contributed 14 kills, an ace, two digs and five blocks. Stalboerger had 10 kills and Henderson had a team-high 20 assists along with one kill, two aces and two digs.

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