ISHPEMING - If the girls playing in the Negaunee-Ishpeming high school volleyball match looked a bit worn down on Tuesday evening, it would be understandable.
Conditions in the gym were hot and muggy before the rains came to cool things off late Tuesday night.
And by the home stretch of the match, the teams had already battled through three "overtime" games, each ending 26-24, twice in the favor of the home Hematites.
Ishpeming’s Sinead Korvela sets the ball as Negaunee's Aubrey Nyman (3) and Katie Lambert (12) prepare to block at Ishpeming High School on Tuesday. (Journal photo by Matt Keiser)
But any lapses the teams committed didn't last long as these next-door rivals fought tooth and nail to the end.
Ishpeming prevailed in the fourth game in a relatively quick 25-22 score for a leg up in the traditionally heated west-end rivalry.
"It was really a battle between each of our teams," IHS sophomore Jessica Spencer said.
Ishpeming 3, Negaunee 1
Summary (kills-aces-solo blocks)
NEGAUNEE - Veale, 9-7-0; Nyman, 2-1-0; Laurila, 1-1-0; K. Johnson, 1-2-0; Blake, 10-3-0; Lambert, 4-0-1; J. Johnson, 0-7-0; Anderson, 4-1-1. Totals, 31-22-2.
ISHPEMING - Korvela, 5-1-0; O'Brien, 8-3-1; Spencer, 4-3-7; Pruett, 1-2-0; Kangas, 0-0-1; Dobson, 1-0-0; LeSage, 1-0-0; Doney, 1-1-5. Totals, 21-10-14.
Score by game:
Negaunee 24 24 26 22
Ishpeming 26 26 24 25
Assists, Negaunee, 21 (Jayda Johnson, 15); Ishpeming, 31 (Mollie Pruett, 20); team blocks, Negaunee, 2; Ishpeming, 14; digs, Negaunee, 17 (Ashley Veale, 6); Ishpeming, 41 (Sinead Korvela, 18).
She finished with a match-high seven blocks to go with four kills and three service aces.
"She really gives us some good energy as one of the young players out there," Hematites coach Amy Rautiola said about Spencer.
The coach explained that in the season-opening Munising Invitational, Spencer was getting excited after a number of winning points, but looked a bit sheepish not seeing her teammates celebrating the same way.
"I said, 'No, no! You do that, you keep that energy going.' That's what I always want to see," Rautiola said. "I'd rather have my girls make mistakes being aggressive than just watching the ball and not moving."
Neither team let a deficit get them down throughout the evening. In fact, in two of the first three games, one team led the whole game until the final few points.
That late burst was parlayed into a victory.
Ishpeming pulled off the trick first in Game 1. Though the score was tied nine times, the Hematites didn't get their first lead until 23-22.
They made their advantage hold up with the final two points, a tip by Spencer that caught the top of the net and fell to Negaunee side of the floor, then a serve by teammate Mollie Pruett that was hit back by the Miners into the net.
Negaunee returned the favor in Game 3, falling behind quickly and not tying the score until 22-22. Negaunee took its first lead at 25-24 and needed a long point after that to win it.
During that point, a pair of seniors - the Miners' Ashley Veale and Ishpeming's Brittany Doney - each thwarted the other's kill attempt with a block right back into the attacker's face.
The point ended on an Ishpeming set into the net that a teammate couldn't scoop out to save.
In Game 4, Ishpeming took the lead at 8-7 and never trailed again, though the Miners did tie it at 10-10, 11-11 and 14-14. Negaunee got as close as 24-22 before Korvela ended the match by dinking the ball on a severe angled across the front row, which had been vacated to defend a possible slam.
"Our girls really wanted this win," Rautiola said. "They really focused and they worked on our game plan. And a couple of them watched Negaunee play during the last week with the long time we had off since our last match."
She credits her team's offensive firepower - Spencer, senior Alesha O'Brien and freshman Sinead Korvela - for giving opponents headaches.
"We've had some good outside hitting the last few years, but now we've also got some in the middle," Rautiola said. "We're able to mix it up, so the opposition has to work a little harder."
O'Brien had a team-high eight kills and three aces, while Korvela added five kills and Brittany Doney had five blocks.
For her part, Negaunee coach Annette Gleason knows her team is still a work in progress.
"We have a lot of inexperienced players, three sophomores who start," she said. "They're proving that they can be right there, but we just have to learn how to finish games."
She cited the play of senior outside hitter Haley Blake, who made 10 kills and three aces, and Katelyn Johnson, who had a kill and two aces.
"They've picked up the level of their play when we were struggling, and I've asked them to move around."
Veale finished with nine kills and seven aces, the same number of aces as Jayda Johnson.
"Negaunee has definitely improved already from when I saw them play Westwood (on Aug. 21)," Rautiola said.
The Miners won the JV match in two games, though scores weren't available.
Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246.