Little schools that could

MARQUETTE – At the Marquette Invitational high school volleyball tournament, most observers must have expected the Class A hosts, or one of the Class B entrants, Gladstone or Menominee, to take berths into the finals.

Maybe even one of the Class C schools like Gwinn, Westwood or Negaunee.

Instead, it was two of the three smallest schools that duked it out for the championship late Saturday afternoon at the MSHS gym.

Class D Munising and Division 4 Florence, the Wisconsin equivalent of Class D, needed three sets before the Lady Wildcats from the Cheese state got to take the trophy home to the Iron Mountain area.

“This is the toughest competition we’ve seen this season,” Florence coach Joan Canfield said. “It gives is some different looks than what we’re used to.

“I have to say this is the first time that we’ve really tapped into our potential with our five seniors and one sophomore starters.”

She felt her team’s consistency, both from player to player and from set to set, was what set her team apart.

“We were able to move the ball around across our front row,” Canfield said.

“We had a couple of communication breakdowns, but the girls did a good job overall of stepping it up all day.”

She said her core group of seniors were the same ones that won the Marquette JV Invitational two years ago as sophomores.

Canfield was also pleased with her team’s comeback in the finals, which the ‘Cats won 9-25, 25-18, 15-7.

“We had to sit around for awhile since we won the semifinals in two games and Munising needed three,” she said. “I think we were still a little stiff at the start of the finals.”

Munising coach Josh Cole was also pleased with his team’s play Saturday.

“I was happy with how hard we worked,” he said. “Last weekend in Crystal Falls, we got down and it just slid away from us after that. I challenged the girls, if you have a lull, work hard to not let it affect you. Today, we just kept battling and battling.”

Asked what the secret was to beating larger schools, Cole didn’t have a specific answer other than to say, “This is why we come to tournaments, to play good teams we wouldn’t play otherwise.

“If we happen to escape with first or second (place), that’s great, but the most important thing is to see teams with good hitters. We’ll see teams like that when we get to the (MHSAA Class D) district and regional tournaments, if we get that far. This way we’re not so shellshocked when we come up against those teams.”

He mentioned Frankie Mattson, and especially Kianne Wendt, for their play.

“Kianne is one of the most well rounded players I’ve coached in my short time on the bench,” Cole said. “She’s a monster.

“And our back row, everyone kept digging it. I know Marissa Immel did a nice job there, plus she gave us a real boost with her serving, either giving us a big advantage or getting us out of the hole.

“Give Florence credit. They’re a fundamentally-sound team and they can jump as high as we can and set and they hit. It’s not too often that we see a team that we’re not better than athletically.”

Munising rolled through the Class D Skyline Central Conference undefeated last season and has done the same so far this year.

The Mustangs reached the finals by dispatching Class B Menominee, 25-16, 23-25, 15-11, while Florence took out Class A Marquette, 25-19, 25-13.

“Florence is a good squad and very disciplined,” MSHS coach Mike Morgan said. “They were doing the things we want to do ourselves.”

Morgan said while he has a veteran group as far as their age – seven seniors and four juniors – they lack a bit in the actual varsity playing experience in the starters.

“We, as coaches, have to get them there, to realize their full potential,” he said. “But don’t fault the effort, our girls worked extra hard.”

With six of the nine participating schools advancing to bracket play, the top teams in pool play – No. 1 Menominee and No. 2 Marquette – received byes in the quarterfinals.

In that first round, No. 4 Munising dumped No. 5 Gwinn, 25-16, 25-16, while No. 3 Florence dropped No. 6 Gladstone 25-11, 25-20.

Here are the pool play records for the tourney’s nine teams, with overall point differentials listed when needed to break ties:

1. Menominee 7-1; 2. Marquette 6-2 (plus-39); 3. Florence, 6-2 (plus-29); 4. Munising, 5-3; 5. Gwinn, 3-5 (minus-4); 6. Gladstone 3-5 (minus-24); 7. Superior Central 3-5 (minus-40); 8. Westwood 2-6; 9. Negaunee 1-7.

Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is sbrownlee@miningjournal.net.