The Calumet Copper Kings have traditionally owned late October and early November by winning the last five district and regional volleyball championships. And they’re off to a flawless start for number six.
Calumet swept the L’Anse Purple Hornets in about as dominating fashion as possible (25-9, 25-4, 25-4) Monday in a district play-in game at L’Anse. The Copper Kings will now host the Houghton Gremlins Wednesday at 7 p.m. in a district semifinal matchup.
“This is exactly how you want to start,” Calumet coach Matt Laho said. “I thought we did a good job of making sure that we control the ball and put the ball in a good place to hit and find good spots on the floor.
“It’s a good confidence booster going into Wednesday.”
Lea Bjorn led Calumet’s offensive attack with 20 kills, sending powerful shots that left the L’Anse defenders no time to react. She converted 20 of 34 kill attempts for a .529 hitting percentage.
“I think she was picking good spots on the floor and made good decisions about when to tip and when to swing,” Laho said of Bjorn.
Calumet was forced to play without Amber Johnson, the two-time West-PAC Defensive Player of the Year. The senior libero was sidelined with an illness and replaced by Ava Anderson, who led Calumet with 20 digs.
“I thought Ava did great; I knew she could,” Laho said. “(Ava and Amber) play pretty much as mirror images in practice and battle every day. We knew she should be able to step right up in there.”
Johnson’s status for Wednesday is still uncertain.
In addition to Calumet’s overpowering offensive attack, the Copper Kings threw L’Anse’s offense out of synch with their block. Calumet sent as many as three blockers at the net, not allowing the Purple Hornets to consistently generate any offense.
“My girls weren’t reacting to the three-person block,” L’Anse head coach Callie Budweg said. “We’ve never seen that, yet, so I kept telling the girls to tip corners. But unfortunately, the offense didn’t run the way they should have.
“I felt like we didn’t play to our potential. We have skilled, athletic girls, but just knowing what Calumet has and the amount of ability they have, shook my girls a little bit… I don’t think we were confident enough to rise above.”
The first set was the most competitive as both teams drew even at 4. Then Calumet closed on a 21-5 run.
Calumet went ahead 16-1 in the second set on consecutive kills by Bjorn. In the third, Calumet junior Celia Kiilunen served for 14 straight points for a 14-0 advantage.
Compared to Monday’s relaxed atmosphere, Wednesday’s match with Houghton will be far more difficult and dramatic for Calumet. Houghton pushed the Copper Kings to the distance in the three regular-season meetings this year. Calumet won in five sets at home before winning the Houghton Invite in the match-deciding third set and edged the Gremlins 15-13 in the fifth set to capture the West-PAC championship.
“We just have to keep working on controlling our side of the court and making sure we’re not making errors,” Laho said of the matchup with Houghton. “We have to force them to play the ball back.”