NEGAUNEE - Alesha O'Brien said she and her Ishpeming High School volleyball teammates were able to fight off host Negaunee on Thursday night for the school's first district tournament title since 2005 for one main reason.
"We didn't want this to be our last match (of the season)," the senior said. "I'm just glad we won."
The Hematites took a grueling five-set decision, 25-8, 25-20, 26-28, 15-25, 15-9, in the district final at Lakeview Memorial Gym over a scrappy Negaunee team that just wouldn't go away.
Ishpeming’s Mollie Pruett passes the ball in the second game against Negaunee in the MHSAA Class C District Championship at Lakeview Memorial Gymnasium in Negaunee on Thursday. (Journal photo by Matt Keiser)
"It wasn't easy," IHS head coach Amy Rautiola agreed, "but we knew this match would be tough both physically and mentally.
"This feels awesome. These girls deserve (the title), though they definitely had to work for it."
The Hematites will take an 8-9 dual meet record to Norway at 7:30 p.m. EST Tuesday for a Class C regional matchup against Calumet. The Copper Kings advanced by beating Houghton Thursday in three sets, 25-22, 26-24, 25-12.
O'Brien led IHS with 14 kills, an ace and a block against the Miners. Teammate Jessica Spencer added nine kills, an ace and six blocks, Natalee Dobson collected 25 assists and Caitlin Korvela posted 17 digs.
"We attacked well," Rautiola said, "but our defense will have to pick it up against Calumet."
The Miners (6-16) got 11 kills, two aces and 14 digs from Rosalie Anderson; six kills, two aces and 14 digs from Ashley Veale; and 14 assists from Jayda Johnson.
"We did well digging against Alesha (O'Brien)," Miners' head coach Annette Gleason said. "We played good defense all night, but just made some little mistakes that Ishpeming capitalized on."
It was all Ishpeming in the first game behind three kills from Spencer and two apiece from O'Brien and Sinead Korvela. Caitlin Korvela served 10 straight points at the end to put the game away.
"We came out slow," Gleason said. "We had to pull it together and pick up our game."
The Miners did just that in the second game, taking a 19-13 lead behind two aces by Veale and a pair of kills by Anderson.
But the Hematites roared back with three kills by Spencer and two by O'Brien to rally for the 25-20 win.
"We just went up against a (Hematite rotation we struggled with and made some small mistakes," Gleason said.
But instead of packing it in, the Miners pulled out a 28-26 victory in Game 3, with Veale recording a kill for the final point.
Negaunee used that victory as a springboard for a 25-15 triumph in Game 4 for a 2-2 match tie.
"We let (the Miners) get into our heads," O'Brien said. "Our intensity wasn't there and we didn't play our game."
Added Rautiola: "I think the girls got tired in the third game and Negaunee got some momentum. And in the fourth, we just couldn't hit inside the court for anything."
But the Hematites regrouped and jumped out to a 7-3 lead in the deciding set behind two kills by Sinead Korvela.
The Miners came back to cut the deficit to 9-8 with the help of an ace by Leisel Flannery, but Ishpeming then went on a 6-1 run to take the game and the match.
O'Brien registered a pair of kills and Mollie Pruett an ace in the late surge.
"The girls just didn't give up," Rautiola said. "We came together as a team in the fifth set and my seniors just took it upon themselves to win."
Craig Remsburg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 251.