Lions sweep pair of home matches

HANCOCK – Lessons from coach Kristan Schuster appear to be taking root in the Finlandia volleyball program. The Lions showed how Tuesday by sweeping through a triangular at the Paavo Nurmi Center.

Finlandia opened with a 3-0 (25-13, 25-23, 25-19) victory over Gogebic Community College, then also swept Northland International 3-0 (26-24, 25-18, 25-23).

“Do you see the perma-grin on my face right now?” Schuster said after her team increased its record to 5-14.

In the nightcap, the Lions’ strength at the net helped get them through three close sets. Tall middle Emma Cole played a major role with 10 kills, three solo blocks and a block assist.

“She has been very consistent all along for us,” Schuster said. “She’s just starting to realize her full potential.”

Making her even more potent has been Finlandia’s ability to run other attackers off Cole, such as sophomore Lake Linden-Hubbell alum Molly Monette. Injuries have influenced Monette’s ability to suit up in the first half of the season, but she was one of four Lions who added at least three kills Tuesday.

NIU led 12-6 in the opener, but the Lions fought back with six straight points on libero Breanna Merriam’s serve to tie it up. Finlandia pulled ahead only to lose its lead on a seven-point Pioneer run.

NIU was just a point from winning the set at 24-21. Junior Brierra Ruska’s kill staved off the first set point, and brought the Lions back to the same productive rotation from which they had run off six in a row earlier. NIU followed with four straight hitting errors and the Lions had the 1-0 lead.

Finlandia played its strongest in the middle stanza. The Pioneers held a modest lead early, but a five-point run from Ruska’s serve put the Lions in front to stay at 15-13. From then on, NIU had no more than two consecutive points.

In the third, Finlandia had the stronger start, though things were tied at 20, then later 22, but Monette and Cole had back-to-back kills to give the Lions the lead. The teams exchanged attack errors to give Finlandia the win.

“Our defense, I thought, was just tenacious tonight. There were very few balls that hit the ground tonight without us touching them,” Schuster said.

To underline that fact, the Lions got at least nine digs from four different players, including from Merriam, who had 27.

“Breanna in the back surprises the heck out of you how she comes from nowhere to get some of those with her quick reactions,” Schuster said.

Nicole Parker (L’Anse) and Katelyn Anderson (Hancock) had 11 digs apiece. Anderson set Finlandia with 20 assists.

The Lions’ next home match is scheduled for Oct. 16 vs. Wisconsin-Superior, but they’ll hit the road for a triangular Saturday at Kalamazoo College.