Gremlins grip grudge match

HOUGHTON – Hancock has put in a few nice performances on the road in the last week, but their trip got stopped in its tracks Thursday by rival Houghton in a 3-0 (25-18, 25-15, 25-15) sweep.

“I thought that we were more consistently aggressive at the net. It did result in a significant number of hitting errors. There were times when we got tentative and got into too much ‘tippy time,’ but I thought at some critical points, some people made some good big swings,” Houghton coach John Christianson said.

The Gremlins got big middles Elisa Jurmu and Sydney Dillinger involved early and often and got a very good performance on the outside from senior Ashlyn Kero.

“I didn’t think their blockers could take that much away from us, especially when we put the ball up high and Syd goes up and gets it,” Christianson said.

That pressure kept the Bulldogs from getting comfortable at any point. Though they played well in the Marquette Invitational Saturday, sweeping all their sets in pool play, then sweeping L’Anse on the road in a WestPAC match Tuesday, Thursday just wasn’t a good night for Hancock, coach Mary Kaminski said.

“Athletically, they weren’t comfortable in what they were doing. We looked very tense,” she said.

A statistic that bore the fact out was Hancock’s hitting errors, eight in the first set and nine in the second.

The Bulldogs didn’t exactly get blown out, but never led in the second half of any set.

In the first, Houghton ran out to a 15-10 lead, then confirmed it by going up 21-13 after a pair of aces from Kero.

Hancock made a run back to 21-17, but a net violation stopped their momentum, then scored four of the last five points, finishing it off on an ace by Kenna Farrey.

Hancock had as much momentum as it had all night when it started off the second set with four straight points, but in the ‘bottom half’ of the rotation, southpaw Jada Riutta served Houghton right back into the lead with five straight points, including a pair of kills from Jurmu and one from Kero.

Jurmu served an ace in a four-point run as Houghton pulled ahead to 11-7. From there, neither side made a major move, but the closest Hancock got was 16-13 before the Gremlins ran off the last five points of the set.

Jurmu threw in three more kills during a 5-0 run early in the third set and Houghton bunched together several two- and three-point rotations to build an insurmountable 17-7 lead.

Setters Farrey (13 assists) and Lexi Pyykkonen (six) directed Houghton’s offense well, Christianson said, but the Bulldogs made the Gremlins earn their kills.

“Their effort is just incredible. There were numerous times we thought we had kills or a second shot that they weren’t going to do anything with. They just keep everything off the floor and keep pushing it back. That makes it tough for us because we have a tendency sometimes when we get a good swing to think that ends it, and it doesn’t. Against a good team, you have to get multiple good swings to end the point.”

Jurmu had eight kills, Kero seven and Dillinger four, but Christianson said the passing must improve to give his team the full range of desired options.

“We have to clean up our passing. We are making our setters run way too much and it’s taking away way too many of our options,” he said.

Still, Houghton (17-8, 3-1 WestPAC) racked up numbers defensively, led by Dillinger’s 15 digs. Riutta added 13, Miranda Hillstrom 12 and Jurmu 11. Kero added three aces and Dillinger three blocks.

For Hancock, Shannon Anderson and Amanda Manninen posted four kills apiece, while Nicole Anderson dished out 12 assists.

Jen Hannon dug up 15 attacks to lead Hancock.

Both teams (as well as co-rival Calumet) are entered in this weekend’s NMU Invitational in Marquette.