Lakes turn it around, beat Gremlins

HOUGHTON – The Lake Linden-Hubbell Lakes shook off their bad mojo Tuesday and passed it across the net to Houghton in a 3-1 (25-17, 26-24, 13-25, 25-23) non-conference victory.

LL-H coach Karen Keranen was not pleased with her team’s performance in a 3-0 loss at Hancock Thursday, but they turned it around and then some for the Lakes’ second win against the Gremlins in as many years.

“You can’t imagine the thrill, the confidence booster it gave these girls, who are young, it’s amazing. You could not have had it better,” Keranen said.

The first win, a year ago this week, was in Lake Linden, in five sets and with a much more experienced cast.

“It’s huge. Our gym’s a lot smaller than this and the school’s a lot smaller, so it’s really good to beat this good of a team in this big of a gym,” said LL-H senior Ciara Larson, a major player in both matches.

The Lakes won the first five points of the night and never trailed in the first set. Julia Hendrickson served a five-point run to end it, with an ace off the net cord for point 24 and another clean ace for point 25.

The second set was highly disjointed, as the Lakes lost three different points for improperly substituting libero Erin Gast. Elisa Jurmu tied it at 24 with a thunderous kill off a Lakes overpass, but Houghton lost the next two points on hitting errors to go down 2-0 in its own gym.

“It was like we were playing uphill all night long. Just when it seemed like we got to the top of the hill, we’d make a bad mistake or they’d make a good play,” Houghton coach John Christianson said.

Houghton struggled to string points together most of the night, with 13 service errors, including five in each of the first two sets, playing a major role. Another was developing the ball control to establish an offense. As a result, Jurmu was the only Gremlin with more than two kills.

“Whether that first touch is serving, serve receive, passing a free ball or digging, we weren’t putting it where the setter could do anything with it. Basically, she kept going to the same place and everyone in the gym knew it, and they rotated their defense and were able to dig all those balls,” Christianson said.

Keranen thought the aftereffects of all the substitution stuff played on her team’s minds as they fell behind 14-6 in an attempt for the sweep. Kenna Farrey cashed in a pair of aces and Sydney Dillinger one of four blocks. LL-H had only one run of more than two points and the Gremlins appeared to have the momentum.

Both sides made runs in the fourth, but Houghton’s serve receive issues continued. Larson had three aces in the final set alone, while Gast had two and Lauren Messner one.

The last set went down to the wire at 23-all, but LL-H got a kill from Carli Ongie for match point and after a time-out, Jada Riutta pushed the ball inches past the corner.

“They forced us to be mentally sharp and tough. They’re not going to give up. It’s Houghton. They kept pressing it at us, forcing us to press it back,” Keranen said.

Doing a lot of the pressing was Larson, who led her team in four major statistical categories, with 12 kills, 24 digs, five aces and two blocks. The 24 digs was particularly impressive given the lanky senior isn’t exactly the prototypical back-row player.

“You can’t underestimate a senior leader like her and she was on most of the time and her impact was great. She’s a good player and she’s a good leader when she steps up to the plate and has it up here,” Keranen said.

Keranen changed the offense to a 6-2 in practice recently to get more firepower alongside Larson in the person of the highly athletic Sarah Audette, who had seven kills. Abby McConnon added eight.

Audette passed out 15 assists and Ongie 10. Gast (14), Ongie (13) and Morgan Codere (11) all had double-digit digs.

Houghton, meanwhile, was unable to run its two-setter offense as planned because of a shoulder injury to senior Lexi Pyykkonen. Given the defensive issues Houghton struggled with, it may not have mattered to the outcome.

“When you control the first ball, your setters have options. We forced a lot to Jurmu in the middle and consequently, she made some hitting errors because of it, but we had to, we had to get a little bit of variety,” Christianson said.

Three Gremlins had double-digit digs: Dillinger 16, Jurmu and Farrey 11.

Houghton resumes play Saturday in “The Rock” Invitational in Gladstone. LL-H has its home opener Thursday against Ontonagon.