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Cougars reach regional final

Kevin Zini photo Superior Central’s Emma Rutter (right) spikes the ball against Forest Park’s Audrey Franz (6) and Maddie Divine (center) Tuesday in North Dickinson during an MHSAA Division 4 Region 25 volleyball semifinal.

FELCH — For the first time in nine years, the Superior Central volleyball team is headed to a regional final.

The Cougars advanced to Thursday’s Division 4 Regional 25 championship match with a 25-20, 26-24, 25-22 victory over Forest Park Tuesday at North Dickinson High School.

Superior Central will face Ironwood in the regional final in search of its first regional championship in program history. The Cougars’ volleyball program began in 2005. Ironwood defeated Baraga 3-1 to qualify for the title match.

In its win, Superior Central avenged a five-set loss to the Lady Trojans during the regular season.

“They’re a very tough team,” Superior Central coach Kris Bray said of Forest Park. “We knew what we needed to do to come in and win, and we had a good game plan, and it worked.”

Bray said that game plan included serving to softer spots in the Lady Trojans’ defense and running a quicker offense than her team did during the regular season.

“We knew that if we did it enough, they would have a hard time with it,” Bray said of her quicker offensive attack.

On the other side of the net, Forest Park simply was not sharp in this matchup.

“I don’t think we had our best game tonight,” Forest Park coach Bobbie Anderson said. “Just too many unforced errors, we didn’t take care of the ball on our side, too many serving errors.

“They played better than us. That’s the bottom line.”

The teams split the first 26 points of the opening set, but two kills from Riley Moore and a block by Riley Johnson helped the Cougars take an 18-13 advantage. Katrina Augustyn and Emma Rutter added kills later in the set as Superior Central grabbed the lead.

The Cougars repeated their act in the second set, snapping a 12-all tie to build a 20-13 lead, sparked by two aces from Johnson. However, Forest Park fought back with a 10-2 run to take a 23-22 edge in what would turn out to be the Lady Trojans’ best stretch of the match.

Nevertheless, Forest Park committed two errors at 24-24, and Superior Central moved closer to victory.

“We’re playing at a much higher level than we were (during the regular-season loss to the Lady Trojans),” Bray said. “We’re playing much more confidently than we were back then.”

Forest Park held an 18-15 lead in the third set, but the Cougars rallied with a 7-2 stretch to put them on the edge of victory. The match ended on a passing error by the Lady Trojans.

“I think we had a lot of nerves coming in tonight, a lot of jitters,” Anderson said. “We have a lot of young girls on the floor, and unfortunately, they haven’t been in this situation before, so they were very nervous.

“We were always playing from behind, and we were playing not to lose. But also, good teams force you to make mistakes, and Superior Central played really well tonight.”

Ema Stepien led Forest Park with 11 kills, while Rayven Jacobson added 16 assists and 12 digs.

No Superior Central statistical leaders were available by press time.

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