ISHPEMING - Everybody found a little something to be happy about at a high school volleyball match Tuesday night with Class C district play looming next week.
Gwinn defeated Ishpeming at the Hematites gym in four sets to clinch the outright title in the Mid-Peninsula Conference, 25-12, 27-29, 25-17, 25-19.
The Modeltowners improved to 10-1 in league matches and 13-1 overall with only a home match against Westwood tonight remaining on the regular-season schedule.
Ishpeming’s Jessica Spencer, right, blocks Gwinn’s Shelby Talsma during a Mid-Peninsula Conference match Tuesday in Ishpeming. The Modeltowners won in four sets to clinch the M-PC title. (Journal photo by Jenna Thompson)
"We've been working a lot in practice to avoid having slow starts like we used to," GHS coach Stephanie Bahrman said. "We practice right away as if we're down (in the score), so we're starting out now with intensity."
Ishpeming finished the regular season at 3-9 in the M-PC and 10-18-7 overall even though the Hematites actually held the lead in the match early in the third set.
"I'm really happy with the way we're playing now," said Ishpeming coach Amy Rautiola, adding that Bahrman told her this was Gwinn's only M-PC victory this season that didn't come in straight sets.
"A week ago was a low spot against Iron Mountain because of a lack of communication. Now we're starting to play well, and I'm looking for it to continue into the tournament."
The MHSAA Class C tourney in Negaunee opens Monday with Ishpeming facing the Miners at 6 p.m. and Gwinn playing Westwood at 7:30 p.m. The winners square off for the district title at 7 p.m. Thursday.
On Tuesday, Katie Aho insured that Gwinn wouldn't have to worry about a slow start. In the first set alone, the 5-foot-9 senior outside hitter had at least five kills along with joining 6-3 senior teammate Shelby Talsma in making several blocks back to the Ishpeming side for points.
Her only weakness was a pair of serves short into the net.
"We spread out our offense because we have so many weapons," Aho said, though that didn't really show until later in the match.
While Aho led her team with 12 kills overall in the match, Talsma added 10, senior Bella Wedig six and junior Ellie Olsen and sophomore Tori Lauren five apiece.
"That's probably the biggest difference between Gwinn and other teams," Rautiola said. "We have some girls who are good at a specific skill, or two or three of them. But Gwinn usually has six girls on the floor who are good at just about everything.
"Their biggest threat is that everyone is a strong attacker."
Junior Jessica Spencer held Ishpeming in the match, however, making 20 kills along with five service aces, four blocks and six digs.
"Jessica played a great game, and actually she was even better against Iron Mountain (a week earlier)," Rautiola said. "Her numbers didn't look as good (Wednesday) because Gwinn has some great blockers.
"From last year to this year, she's improved tremendously."
But the coach said her game can only go so far without help from her teammates.
"They're setting her up to make those plays," Rautiola said. "She gets the glory of making the kill, but it won't happen without her teammates."
That was evident in the Hematites' second-set victory, when Spencer made a big hit and a block for early points as Ishpeming raced to a 5-1 lead. Still ahead 18-13 later in the set, the Hematites lost their focus and then their lead, with Spencer not able to make big plays for awhile.
IHS staved off three set points beginning at 24-22 with Spencer getting two slams, a tip and surprising Gwinn with a short serve to score the Hematites' final four points for the come-from-behind victory.
Ishpeming used its momentum to build an early 3-1 lead in set three before the Modeltowners woke up and put their stamp on the match.
With Aho, Talsma, Lauren, Wedig and Olsen sharing the scoring load, Gwinn built a 19-11 lead in that set before winning.
The Modeltowners took control early in the final set before Ishpeming regained a brief 18-17 lead. Gwinn then scored eight of the final nine points, culminated by back-to-back-to-back service aces pumped home by senior setter Kaylee Arnsparger to end the night.
The Modeltowners also won the JV match, 22-25, 25-21, 25-17.