RAPID RIVER - A Class D district volleyball opener couldn't have started much better for the Superior Central Cougars Tuesday night.
Superior Central took the first two sets and needed to win just one more to get past the Munising Mustangs.
The ending, however, was even better for Munising as it rallied for a five-set 22-25, 23-25, 25-18, 25-25, 15-10 triumph over the Cougars.
"We were real excited after winning the fourth set," said Munising freshman Marissa Immel, whose spike ricocheted off Superior Central's Emilee Lintula for a kill and an insurmountable 14-10 advantage in the fifth set. "We had a lot of momentum going into the fifth set, although the thought of the last set going up to only 15 points made me a little nervous."
The victory sends the Mustangs into Thursday's title contest against host Rapid River.
Rapid River eliminated the Big Bay de Noc Black Bears 25-14, 25-23, 25-19 in Tuesday's nightcap.
"I think watching Munising and Superior Central play to the death got our girls fired up," said Rockets' coach Lisa Kanyuh. "With this being the end of the season, we have nothing to lose. We went four sets with Big Bay during the regular season. Our goal tonight was to take them out in three. Big Bay is a scrappy team. If you give them an inch, they'll take a mile."
Munising, with four freshmen on its roster, trailed 4-2 in the final set.
Immel then provided a kill for a sideout, trimming Munising's deficit to 4-3, and senior Caitlyn McConnaughey hit five straight service points to put the Mustangs ahead to stay.
"Caitlyn kept getting her serves in and we were real confident at that point," said Immel. "After losing the first two, we knew this could be our last match. But we never got down on ourselves all year. We just pulled together and fought through it."
Munising's rally wasn't all that surprising to coach Josh Cole.
"We have a scrappy, scrappy defense," said Cole. "We find ways to scratch and claw our way back. The key was to keep them off balance after the second set. Marissa had an awesome night. Her offense had been struggling lately, but tonight she really stepped up. My biggest thing was to motivate our four freshmen. Yet, they were able to find ways to motivate themselves. This is the first time we've gone to a Game 5. I wasn't sure how the girls would react, but they all stepped up."
The loss was excruciating for the Cougars, who shared this year's Central U.P. Conference title with Munising.
"This is hard for the kids, the seniors especially," said Cougars' coach Chris Bray. "It was ours to have, only we weren't serve receiving real well in the third set. We were tipping and pushing the ball and they were digging it up. They were waiting for us to make mistakes. Our girls were ready to go, but give them credit. They dug down and we couldn't finish them off."
Cougars' senior Teslyn Tyner hit 13 service points, including five straight in the second set. She also collected five aces, eight kills and five digs. Classmate Vanessa Freberg contributed 23 kills and 18 digs. Sophomore Ally Bray added 11 points, four aces and 36 assists and senior Brooke Pasanen had 10 points and four aces.
"We had our ups and downs, but still had a successful season," said Bray. "One player (Mikayla Barrows) moving away threw off our chemistry a little. It took us a little while to adjust, but we overcame that. Vanessa picked up the slack in the front row."