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Emeralds refuse to lose against Calumet, move on to regional final

ESCANABA — The Manistique Emeralds simply refused to lose.

After blowing an 18-11 lead in the third set to fall behind 2-1, the Emeralds flexed their muscle in Set 4 and then rallied from an early 4-0 hole in Set 5 to outlast the Calumet Copper Kings 3-2 (25-23, 19-25, 21-25, 25-11, 15-13) in a thrilling Division 3 volleyball regional semifinal Tuesday night at Escanaba.

Trailing 8-6 in Set 4 with all the momentum on Calumet’s side, Manistique teammates Lenna Smith and Kayla Muth took over the match. Smith served for 16 straight points — nine of which were scored by Muth — as the Emeralds built a commanding 22-8 lead on their way to forcing a deciding fifth set.

“(It was) really our teammates pushing us to do our best,” said Smith, who finished with 27 digs, six kills, four aces and one block. “No one was down on each other. All of us were just pushing each other and we were confident in ourselves, and that really let us show what we can actually do.”

As they did all night, the Copper Kings responded with the first four points in the fifth set to regain momentum.

Out of a timeout, the Emeralds scored the next four points to tie it 4-4, but the Copper Kings went back up 10-6 on a kill by Molly Larson. After a kill by Muth, Manistique’s Madison Zellar served for the next three points and tied the score at 10 with an ace.

Calumet got possession back with a kill by Elli Djerf, but the Emeralds scored the next two points to go up 12-11 and force Calumet into a timeout.

The Copper Kings scored two of the next three points to knot the score at 13, but Manistique finished the match on a kill by Emilee McDaniel and a Copper Kings’ kill attempt that just missed hitting the back boundary line.

“We knew that Calumet was going to be tough,” Emeralds’ coach Amy Nixon said. “They’re a perennial powerhouse every year. We beat them at this point last year, too, so I feel like we had some confidence going into tonight… But we definitely knew it was going to be a battle and no lead was ever safe, as we showed in Set 3. We got up, but then we let them come back and beat us.

“In Set 4, we really wanted to turn the corner and keep ourselves alive. I think we really accomplished that, so then in Set 5 we knew it was like a race to 15 to see who can get there first. It was back-and-forth, back-and-forth all the way to the end. Hats off to Calumet for giving us a fight.”

Manistique certainly had to work for it.

After the teams traded the first two sets, the Emeralds built an 18-11 lead in the third frame, only to watch Calumet roar all the way back to take a 23-20 lead after a six-point service run by Kristi Keranen. The Copper Kings then closed it out to take all the momentum into Set 4.

“We just kind of threw that third set out the window like it never happened. We started the next one at 0-0,” said Muth, who finished with 11 kills and a game-high eight blocks. “I felt like we really kept our emotions in check on the court, and it led to success.”

Copper Kings’ coach Matt Laho wasn’t surprised his team rallied in the third set, but felt like there wasn’t enough urgency from his team in the fourth set.

“We’ve had situations like this year all year where they’ve gotten down in games, and usually they pull them out,” he said. “So I wasn’t worried, I knew we just had to take care of business. When I called timeout I just told them to do what you have to do, and just go out and play and be aggressive. If you’re going to win you have to swing and be aggressive at the net. We just had to get after it, and I think that was the difference in that third set.

“The fourth got away from us there. I think getting up 2-1 kind of got us in our comfort zone and we kind of settled in and didn’t understand the importance of winning that one and not having to go to five. Unfortunately, it went five and it didn’t go our way.”

Nixon felt the Emeralds were a little tight early, but responded nicely with their backs against the wall.

“I think that they just refused to lose,” she said. “We were playing a little bit too hesistant, and I think whenever you do that, you give the other team an opportunity to come back on you. So we just tried to remind of them our strengths and to play to our strengths and that’s what wins us games. They got back to that, and it worked.”

Erin LaBar, who served for the final point, added 38 assists, 17 digs, three blocks and one kill. McDaniel chipped in with 12 kills, six blocks, two aces and one dig.

Djerf led Calumet with 23 digs, a game-high 17 kills, three aces and two assists. Larson added 12 kills, nine digs and an ace, while Keranen chipped in with 19 digs, 17 assists, five aces and three kills.

Manistique will now host Traverse City St. Francis in the regional final for the second straight season Thursday at 6 p.m.

“Hopefully we can get revenge on them this time,” Nixon said. “We definitely will give them our best.”