At the beginning of the season Calumet coach Matt Laho preached the importance of defense to his team. He said if they wanted to win, the Copper Kings would have to learn to “work hard, get on the floor and sacrifice their bodies.”
Something about the speech stuck, and they’ve been playing that way ever since. Their defensive approach was on full display in Tuesday’s three-set win over the Hancock Bulldogs (25-11, 25-10, 25-20).
“I told them they could really frustrate their opponents playing that way,” Laho said. “They liked that style of play. It fits their personalities and they just ran with it.”
In their last match of the regular season, the Copper Kings recorded 64 digs and returned almost everything that came over the net.
Each time Hancock would string together a solid set of hits, a white and blue jersey would dive to the floor, save the play and put another point on the board for Calumet.
Amber Johnson led the way for the Copper Kings with 21 digs.
“Amber had a phenomenal game, especially passing,” Laho said. “I thought she played almost perfectly.”
Offensively, Lea Bjorn paced Calumet with 16 kills.
Hancock head coach Sarah Grieger said going into the game she knew her team would have to place the ball perfectly in order to combat Calumet’s defense.
“They are a great digging team,” she said. “It is hard because they pursue the ball to the bitter end and we had to really place the ball well.”
Calumet dominated the first two sets, but Hancock showed signs of life in the third, forcing the Copper Kings to make uncharacteristic errors.
“Those first couple of games we were playing flat, and robotic and just way too cautiously,” Grieger said. “That third game finally had the energy level that I was looking for.”
Since that first team meeting, the Copper Kings have been focusing on ball control and eliminating errors. In the first two sets they executed flawlessly, but after Hancock picked up its play, the teams traded points before Laho was forced to call a timeout with Calumet down, 18-17.
In the huddle, Laho reminded his players to be disciplined.
They responded immediately and outscored Hancock 8-2 to end the match.
“We just have to continue to play our style of volleyball,” he said. “We are a tough team defensively and we have to continue to make the other team work to score points on us. As long as we control the ball the way that we do, and we aren’t making errors that is what we want to do.”
Laho said he hopes his team takes that approach into the playoffs.
With the win, Calumet finished 8-0 in the West-PAC, and will play at L’Anse on Monday. The winner of that game will host Houghton in a district semifinal on Nov. 1.
The Bulldogs will go on the road and play Chassell on the same day in the other district semifinal.