West Iron’s Emilie Christensen fires a sharp shot at Iron Mountain during semifinal district action Oct. 30 in the Mountaineers’ gym.
IRON MOUNTAIN—It’s been so long since West Iron’s volleyball team lifted a district championship trophy. But all those years of frustration ended here Nov. 1 when the Wykons rallied from far, far behind to defeat Ironwood in the championship match 3-2.
When Emilie Christensen’s hard spike hit the floor for the winning point of the fifth set, it touched off a noisy, raucous celebration by the young team. (Christensen is the only senior.)
True grit: Sheer determination and grit is how the Wykons won their first district title since March 2002, when Amanda Symmonds was coach.
“They played as a team,” said Coach Brenda Grubbs, as the players screamed and hugged and posed for pictures with the trophy. “They fought to the end. They did everything that was asked of them.”
Earlier in the season, she added, the team would have given up after falling behind 2-0 in the best-of-five match. But the Wykons have grown up a lot since then.
Two nights earlier, in the semifinals, WIC eliminated 10-time district champ Iron Mountain 3-1 on Oct. 30.
This week, it’s the Class C regional tournament at Norway, where WIC faces Stephenson in the semifinals Nov. 6. The winner faces either Calumet or Ishpeming in the regional title match Nov. 8.
To the wire: The Wykons won the Ironwood match on set scores of 25-27, 24-26, 25-18, 25-22, 16-14. Not only did they battle out of a 2-0 hole against the Red Devils, but they also had to fight for their lives in the 15-point fifth set.
Ironwood led early before Alexis Golfis served three winners and put WIC ahead 7-8. The Devils edged in front, and a three-point spell increased their lead to 14-11—one point away from the district title. WIC Coach Brenda Grubbs called her final time-out.
“All I said to them,” she said later, “was, We need to make a good pass so we can set to Emmy [Christensen]—because Emmy was successful on them all night long, and she’ll be firing.
“I knew if we could just get that last side-out, our serves are good. I knew we can do that.”
Turning point: Moments later, WIC’s India Schindler got the side-out her team so desperately needed. Playing from the back row, Schindler’s hit managed to elude all the Ironwood girls and hit the floor. Side-out and serve to WIC’s Cassilyn Pellizzer with WIC down 14-12.
No margin for error! None! A bad serve, a bad hit, even an off-target bump gives Ironwood the district title.
Pellizzer’s first serve landed untouched on the back line. An ace! Now it’s 14-13. Next, an Ironwood girl was called for lifting the ball. That tied it 14-all. Then, Pellizzer fired another ace. West Iron now led 15-14, one point from the win. Ironwood called time.
Pellizzer’s next serve was returned, and the ball went back and forth, both teams looking for an opening as teammates played the ball. West Iron spotted something. Amy Richardson set the ball for Emilie Christensen, who leaped high and powered it down—down to the floor past the Ironwood girls.
The winning point! West Iron wins 16-14!
The big play: “We really dug hard,” said Pellizzer moments later, “and we really gave it all.
“When that ball came up in that set,” she said, “I was, like, This is it—we’re going to win this! And then she slammed it. And we won it!”
“I knew I just had to kill it,” Christensen said. “Like, I just put all my effort into it. I jumped as high as I could, and I just hit it as hard as I could. I just knew I had to get the point.”
Her hit ended an emotionally draining night. “At one point I thought I was going to give up,” Christensen admitted. “But we couldn’t. We just had to stick with it. We had to try our hardest. Because we haven’t won districts in 10 years and we were this close, so we had to do it, no matter how hard it was.
“And we did it! Pretty proud!”
The first four: The first set was close. Ironwood led most of the time, but two service points each by Schindler and Pellizzer helped WIC tie it at 24, before the Red Devils got the win.
West Iron dominated most of the second set. Five points by Richardson, two each by Pellizzer and Abbie Grubbs and three by Golfis built an 11-3 lead that later grew to 21-11. But Korrie Trier turned the match around with an eight-point spell that tied it at 23-23, and Danielle McCullough followed with two to steal the win for Ironwood, who now led 2-0.
It was a demoralizing loss after such a big lead. From the last six girls who served, WIC got just one point.
Battling back: Trailing 2-0 and facing elimination, WIC got another early lead in the third set. Two by Pellizzer and four from Golfis put them up 9-3, and later Schindler served two to make the lead 23-12. Her next serve went long, and the Devils’ Jessica Gering came back with four to cut the lead to 23-17. Uh-ohh!
But history didn’t repeat itself: Pellizzer’s kills got WIC a precious side-out and then the win.
Down 2-1, the Wykons battled to pull even in the fourth set. This one had nine lead changes. Pellizzer served five early, and Abbie Grubbs got three but the big moment came when Grubbs took serve with WIC trailing 20-19. She fired four winners for a 23-20 lead, including three kills by Christensen.
After the Wykons lost serve, they got it back on Pellizzer’s kill, and an Ironwood hit into the net gave WIC the 25-22 win, tying the match 2-2 and setting up the 15-point fifth set.
“Ironwood was so much better than we had seen all year,” Grubbs said. “I did not know what to expect. We had beaten them earlier in the year, and I think they laid back.
“I’m glad they [her girls] fought to the end. That’s all I can say. They’re proof that you never give up.”
Dethroning: The grueling Ironwood match came two days after the Wykons eliminated Iron Mountain in four sets (25-23, 25-16, 23-25, 25-11).
The first set was close all the way—the score was tied 11 different times. Two-point spells by Grubbs and Golfis at the end got WIC the 25-23 win.
IM had lost its starting setter late in the season with a wrist injury. They led briefly in the second set but the Wykons went ahead 12-8 on Schindler’s three-point spell, and they stayed in front. Golfis had a three later.
The Mountaineers led most of the third set and had a five-point edge at 19-14, but WIC fought back into it. Three from Golfis and two by Christensen got the Wykons within one before IM won the set.
WIC still led 2-1, and Richardson gave them a dream start in the fourth set with four points, and Grubbs followed with three. IM got three from Sarah Girard (10-8), but Christensen answered with six for a 17-8 Wykon lead. Two each by Richardson and Pellizzer wrapped up the victory and set up the match with Ironwood.
Coming up: All roads lead to Norway and the Class C regional tournament. The Wykons and Stephenson open the tournament Nov. 6 in the first semifinal, at 5 p.m. That will be followed by Calumet vs. Ishpeming, at about 6:30.
The championship match is Nov. 8 at 6 p.m. The winner advances to the Class C quarterfinal match at Traverse City West on Nov. 13.