Esky survives late rally in straight-set win over Gladstone

Escanaba’s Sophie Lehto (5) attempts to place the ball past the outstretched arms of Gladstone sophomore Lillie Johnson (12) during a volleyball match on Sept. 19, 2023 at Gladstone High School.

GLADSTONE — With a 2-0 match lead, Escanaba volleyball found itself scratching and clawing its way to try and win the third set over rival Gladstone.

After a six-point lead morphed into a 22-22 tie, Tuesday’s third frame then witnessed seven ties and seven lead changes until Italian exchange student Andrea Cerma stepped to the service line for the Eskymos.

She earned Esky’s 29th point of the frame when Gladstone’s attempt to volley the ball over the net landed in the net. With a chance to end the calamity of the third frame, Cerma floated her serve over the net. The Braves’ initially dug the serve, but the ball violently ricocheted toward the bleachers. Despite several players breaking out into an impromptu full sprint, the ball found the ground.

It was the final blow in Esky’s 25-14, 25-10, 31-29 win over the Braves on Tuesday.

“Gladstone’s always fun,” Eskymos coach Adam Lambert said. “They did a great job in that third set today. It went back and forth, and they were pretty excited. It’s fun to watch them play and have fun. That, to me, is the key, when they’re out there playing well and having fun.”

Similar to Tuesday’s first two sets, Esky jumped out to an early advantage, pulling ahead 10-4. This time, however, Gladstone had a response. Freshman Brooklyn Lauscher provided the spark with a five-point service run to pull the home team within one point.

Esky ballooned its lead back to 18-12, but Gladstone rallied once again to claim five of the frame’s next six points to force an Eskymo timeout, evaporating their lead to 19-17.

The Braves pulled to 20-19, and while Lauscher got her hands up on a kill attempt from Cerma, the ball ricocheted out of bounds to put the Eskymos up two.

The Braves responded by claiming the next three points, claiming a 23-22 lead off an ace from senior Maia Nelson. The Eskymos rallied to take a 24-23 lead and force a Gladstone timeout, ultimately setting the stage for an intense back and forth.

The Braves tied the match at 24 on the ensuing possession. With junior Alli Larson at the service line, the Braves took a 25-24 lead, one point away from taking the set and breathing new life into the match. The Eskymos responded by claiming the next two points.

Once again, the Braves had a response. This time it was sophomore Lillie Johnson finding a hole in the Esky defense from the front of the net to time the frame at 26. A service point from Gladstone senior Kennedy Sandville earned a point from the line for a 27-26 lead, one point away once again from claiming the third set.

Esky ultimately tied the match, but would not claim a lead when its block on a Braves kill attempt landed out of bounds, giving the home team a 28-27 lead much to the joy of the ruckus student section.

The Eskymos tied the match at 28, but a deflection by the orange and black tipped the ball out of bounds, giving the Braves a 29-28 lead with sophomore Maev Hanson at the line for a chance at the win. The point went to Escanaba when

the ball landed between two Braves defenders. Cerma then stepped to the line to rattle off back-to-back points for the straight-set win.

“It’s Gladstone. You have to want to beat Gladstone,” Lambert said. “We’re all friends outside the gym. But in the gym we’re competitors, and we’re rivals. So you have to come to want that, and they did that today.”

For Gladstone, it boils down to finding consistency throughout a match. The Braves found themselves down 14-3 in the first set and 21-10 in set two.

“They always show heart, but they don’t show heart until the third set,” Gladstone coach Kaitlyn Hardwick said. “They need to talk more. We need to be more positive and see those things on the court. Sometimes you just have to find the groove, and in that third step we did. Sometimes you just need to leave those people on the court and make sure they know what they’re doing.” Cerma tallied a team-best 10 kills to go with seven assists and a dig. Clara Braun added a team-leading 18 assists to go with four aces, four digs and a kill for Esky. Harlee Coolman tallied 10 digs and four kills. Aleaha Lambert finished with six kills, an ace and a dig. Carley McInerney amassed 10 digs. Katey Lamb finished with five kills and an assist. Sophie Lehto tallied five kills, three digs and a pair of aces. Zoe Wilson added six digs. Mara Liss churned three tigs, three helpers, a pair of aces and a kill. Lily Nelson provided four aces, two kills and two digs.

For the Braves, Johnson amassed a team-best seven kills. Lauscher tallied two kills in the third frame. Sandville finished with two kills. Nelson finished with an ace. Claire Rowski finished with two kills. Alli Larson earned an ace. Addie Ochetti and Lucy Degroot added a kill each.

Esky returns to action at 7 p.m. Thursday for a road conference match in Marquette. Gladstone trips for a match against Kingsford at 7 p.m. on Thursday.



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