Lea Bjorn spent the first two years of her varsity career playing alongside dominant outside hitters Janie Torola and Hailey Wickstrom. But after both Torola and Wickstrom took their talents to Northern Michigan University following graduation, Bjorn is now the Calumet Copper Kings’ No. 1 offensive option in her senior year.
If you think she’d feel added pressure, you’re wrong; instead, she relishes the opportunity.
“I like the extra pressure,” Bjorn said. “I think I like it better than being a second option where you’re not always ready for that set. When you’re the first option, you’re ready for the set every single time.”
So far, so good, as Bjorn recorded 16 kills in Calumet’s three-set West-PAC victory over the Hancock Bulldogs (25-14, 25-13, 25-17). Just six days ago, she tallied a career-high 25 kills in Calumet’s sweep over the Chassell Panthers.
“She works hard in transition, and she does a really good job of making sure she’s off the net and available to hit on every ball,” Calumet head coach Matt Laho said of Bjorn. “She has a great arm swing and really unloads into her hits.
“She’s handled (the new role) well. She’s jumped right into it, and she wants it. She’s a competitor, and she wants the ball every time.”
Bjorn’s powerful shots sent the Hancock defense reeling for most of the night, while the Calumet student section roared to a crescendo each time she wound up for a swing. Bjorn recorded six kills in the opening set, closing the game on two kills for the 25-14 victory.
“I’ve been focusing harder on what I need to do,” Bjorn said. “I feel like I need to put (the ball) down to be successful. I’ve just tried to hit more consistently (this year).”
While Bjorn provided the offensive hitting firepower, junior Celia Kiilunen stymied the Bulldogs with her serve. Kiilunen recorded 10 aces and served for 35 of Calumet’s 75 points in the match.
“(Celia) mixes up tempo well and gets a good float on it,” Laho said. “The ball is moving; it doesn’t look like it, but it’s moving when it’s coming across.”
Kiilunen’s serves provided Calumet with the separation they would need after both teams battled service errors of their own in the first set. With a 13-12 lead in the opener, Kiilunen served for the next nine Calumet points — including three aces — to take a 22-12 advantage.
“(Kiilunen) was such a good server, and we could not get under the ball and get out of rotation,”Hancock head coach Sarah Grieger said. “I think it’s just the short drop-ball that was just so difficult for the girls to read. It was a tough serve.”
The second set was more of the same, as Kiilunen started her service run with a 16-11 lead and recorded three more aces in Calumet’s 6-0 run to go ahead 22-11.
Calumet cruised in the final set, ensuring a sweep in dominant fashion for a 2-0 start in West-PAC play. It was the type of performance Laho wanted to see from his team after an inconsistent weekend in Ashwaubenon, Wis.
“Our goal was to come out and play consistent and play our game,” the first-year Calumet coach said. “I think we’re right where we need to be. We got our sights set high, so we just have to keep working on getting more consistency.
“Our passing and serving is looking really well. It’s just minor execution stuff like third-ball stuff that we’re looking to clean up and eliminate some errors.”
Defensively, Calumet’s Amber Johnson finished with 19 digs, while Bjorn added 10.
For Hancock, Emma Almquist had four kills, and Clariane Alkuino tallied nine digs.
Next, Calumet heads to the Cadillac Invite on Saturday; Hancock hosts West Iron Country on Tuesday.