GWINN - Gwinn and Iron Mountain showed why they're the class of Mid-Peninsula Conference volleyball on Tuesday night.
The teams ran through wild swings of momentum throughout the evening at the Modeltowners gym, but in the end, they came up with a thrilling, at times nearly heart-stopping, finish to their match.
The Mountaineers pulled out a 25-22, 17-25, 25-17, 32-30 victory to clinch at least a tie for the M-PC championship, but the Gwinn and Iron Mountain faithful might've forgotten all about that after the finish they saw.
Gwinn libero Daabii Reinhardt looks to make a pass against Iron Mountain on Tuesday inside the Gwinn High School gymnasium. (Journal photo by Matt Keiser)
IM fell behind in each of the final three games, coming back from a 15-4 deficit in the fourth game to finally tie the score 23-23 when a big hit by the Modeltowners was blocked by IM back onto the Gwinn side of the floor.
And the fun was just beginning.
With the possibility that two consecutive points by either squad would end the game, instead they battled through another 18 points before IM clinched the game and the match to improve to 9-1 in the M-PC and send Gwinn to 7-3 with two matches left. Both have matches left against Ishpeming and Westwood.
Starting at 23-23, the lead changed hands seven times, not to mention the tie score at every number from 23 to 30.
"I just tell my girls to take deep breaths before the serve," GHS coach Stephanie Bahrman said about each game- and match-changing point.
"I always tell them to look at their (the opponents) court and see what they're giving us," IM mentor Jeanne Newberry said.
"Both teams fought hard, and both teams served well and hit well," Bahrman said. "This was the highest level of volleyball I've seen in a long time in the U.P.
"I hate to lose, but if I'm going to, I prefer to have it happen when we play this well. The girls put everything they had out on the court tonight."
She said that her team has improved its play in subtle ways recently.
"They're making changes on the fly much better," Bahrman said. "Now we just have to learn how to finish a game."
Newberry praised her most senior players for making their own adjustments.
"I don't really have to tell them, they know what they have to do," she said.
"We played the best when we were all talking and communicating," Mountaineers senior Abby Gerhard said.
"Everyone gets involved," IM junior Mandy Haferkorn added when asked if her coach or any specific player is in charge of reminding the team to keep the chatter going.
With the fourth-game score tied 23-23, the visitors took their first lead since 1-0 on Gerhard's slam from above the net into the Modeltowners floor.
After that, there were a couple of missed serves and missed serve receives, but more were like the match point that Gwinn saved at 26-25 - the ball stayed in play for three or four minutes with players from each team making lunges out of bounds and below the net before passing the ball back to their opponent.
Neither team wanted to go for the big kill, possibly worried about making the big error that could seal the result. Gerhard tried another severely angled cross-court hit that flew wide, retying the game 26-26.
After Gwinn took its final lead at 30-29, the match ended with three straight points by Iron Mountain on a big hit by senior Sarah Girard, an error on the serve receive by the Modeltowners and an IM tip by Gerhard to the Gwinn back row that slipped off a GHS player's fingertips.
"We have learned some things tonight that hopefully we'll be able to use when we see them again," Bahrman said.
She emphasized the "hopefully" since their only possible future meeting this season would come in the MHSAA Class C regional tournament in Norway during the first week of November.
Girard finished the night with a match-high 12 kills, while Gwinn junior Katie Aho made 11. The Modeltowners' Morgan Bruce had seven service aces, matching IM's team total, with a sinking line-drive shot that got her team off to the fast start in the final game.
The Mountaineers also prevailed in the JV match, 25-15, 19-25, 25-17.
Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246.