NEGAUNEE - The Westwood High School volleyball team showed how it has improved its play, even if the results don't show up yet for the Patriots in the win-loss column.
Gwinn showed why it continues to be the team to beat in district tournaments nearly every year.
The Modeltowners polished off Westwood, 3-0, on Monday, the opening night of the Class C district tournament at Lakeview Memorial Gymnasium in Negaunee, winning 25-15, 25-20, 25-17.
Westwood senior Courtney Burke runs to get a dig during a match against Gwinn Monday at Lakeview Memorial Gym in Negaunee. (Journal photo by Adelle Whitefoot)
Gwinn advances to the district championship match at 7 p.m. Thursday back at Lakeview, taking on the host Miners, who were Mid-Peninsula Conference runners-up this season.
The Modeltowners, however, were league champs at 11-1 which included two victories over Negaunee.
"We did exactly what we wanted to do," said GHS senior middle blocker Chelsea Moton, whose five kills made her one of eight Gwinn players with multiple kills on Monday.
"We've had some slow starts at the beginning (of the season), but everyone was on their game right from the start tonight.
"The team concept, yeah, that's what we stress."
Westwood does much the same, according to coach Janine Chapman, but has to do so without any dominating offensive forces like Gwinn's 6-foot-3 middle blocker Shelby Talsma, who led all players with 10 kills, or senior teammate Katie Aho, who elevated her 5-9 frame well for nine kills.
"They've just got a lot of attackers, so many girls who can get above the net," said Chapman, whose team went winless in M-PC matches this season. "It hurts our offense when we play a team like them, because we have to overcompensate on the defensive end.
"But we gave them a run for their money, just like when we played them last week."
While the Modeltowners cruised in the first set Monday, establishing an 11-5 lead and never looking back, the Patriots battled throughout the final two sets.
In Set 2, Westwood grabbed a quick lead before Gwinn went up 3-2. Westwood tied it at 5-5, then pulled to within 13-12 and 20-15.
The Modeltowners had eight match points, leading 24-16, when Westwood scored four straight on the serving of sophomore Hannah Salmi as the Pats made their defensive stand and outlasted Gwinn on several points.
The final set was similar, with Westwood leading 4-2 before Gwinn reeled off four straight points with Aho serving. But Westwood hung close, staying within 16-13 before a late rush culminated by Talsma's perfect downward tip on match point proved too much for the Patriots to handle.
Chapman said without an offensive star, out of necessity she's been able to rotate nearly her whole team onto the floor all season.
"It's nice to get in just about everybody, but we really do have to play as a team - it's so important," the WHS coach said.
Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246.