Matt Laho admits he felt some pressure when he took over as head coach of the Calumet volleyball program.
And how could he not? He was replacing Lisa Twardzik, who built the Copper Kings into one of the top programs in the U.P. during her 20-year coaching career. Calumet won 78 percent of its matches (625-131-43) and was the five-time defending district and regional champions. But that pressure drove his work ethic, whether it was regularly watching film or refining a practice schedule down to the final detail, he wanted to continue the winning tradition that Twardzik created.
“I think there was a little pressure in that I wanted to make sure I was doing everything right,” Laho said.
So far, so good.
Calumet captured its sixth consecutive district championship with a sweep over the Chassell Panthers (25-9, 25-14, 25-9) on Thursday in the Class C District 96 championship at Calumet.
“It means a lot to me,” Laho said of his team repeating. “Coming into the job, I knew how high of a regard that Calumet volleyball is held in. It means a lot to carry on the winning tradition.”
The match lacked the intensity and drama of Calumet’s four-set win over the Houghton Gremlins in the district semifinal on Wednesday. Right away, Calumet made it clear there would be no letdown when it scored the first 10 points of the opening set. The Copper Kings eventually built a 24-4 lead before winning 25-9.
“Ultimately, you’re playing a team that’s ranked in the nation. It’s hard to come in with a mentality that’s confident and not playing scared,” Chassell head coach Kaitlyn Michaels said about her team’s underdog role. “The best team won and that’s what this game showed.
“I wish the best of luck to Calumet. It’s awesome to see a program of this size and caliber from a little town. I think their program is top-notch.”
Calumet advances to the regional round held at Gladstone where they will be favored to repeat as champions for the sixth consecutive season. The Copper Kings will face Indian River Inland Lakes or St. Ignace in a regional semifinal, while the Westwood Patriots face the West Iron County Wykons in the other semifinal.
It’s all part of Calumet’s quest to return to Battle Creek for the state semifinals and finals. This year’s group of eight seniors experienced what it was like to play on the state’s biggest stage. Now, they want to get back, but instead, return home with a trophy.
“Even last year, I remember (Laho) saying after we lost to (Bronson), ‘Well guys, we’ll be back here next year and we’re going to win a state title,’” Calumet senior Lea Bjorn said. “Even last year, he knew we would have the potential and skill to do it. He had faith in us, so it’s what we’re working towards this year. It’s awesome to have a coach that knows what we’re capable of.”
Bjorn led Calumet’s offense with 17 kills on 35 attempts for a .400 hitting percentage. Senior Brea Johnson had 16 assists, while Niina Anderson chipped in with 13 assists.
Defensively, senior Amber Johnson led the way with 22 digs.
For Chassell, Milly Allen had 13 assists and three kills. Leah Pennala added six kills, and Sydney Danison added five kills.