CRYSTAL FALLS—Coach Kim Bjork has a really high standard for her Forest Park girls volleyball team: She wants them to play like those Trojan volleyball teams with all those conference, district and regional titles.
Trojans’ record entering this week was 16-1-5 overall and 5-0 in the Skyline Conference.
This year’s team still has some rough spots to sand down, but you could see them becoming more consistent last week. The Trojans swept North Dickinson and North Central and then earn the title (once again) at the Forest Park Invitational, held Sept. 21.
At the tourney, Forest Park went 7-1 in pool play and swept Stephenson in the semifinals and Florence in the finals.
In their pool, Forest Park was 2-0 against Lake Linden (21-16, 22-20), L’Anse (21-14, 21-18) and Munising (21-4, 21-17) before splitting with North Dickinson (21-19, 18-21).
In the semifinals with Stephenson (second place in the other pool), FP won 21-12, 22-20. That put them in the finals with Florence (unbeaten 8-0 in the other pool).
But the powerful Ladycats weren’t ready for FP in their first game. Libby Shamion’s early five-point haul and three from Lexi Gussert put the Lady Trojans up 11-3. Kendra Campbell later had a three-point haul as the Trojans won 21-11.
Game two was much closer, and Florence led several times—but never by more than two. Maria Stankewicz’s two and Gussert’s three gave FP an 18-14 lead, but Florence got its momentum back with two from Keaghan Doda and later tied it at 20 and 21.
In the end, you-know-who (Gussert, of course) got the kills that earned FP’s 22nd and 23rd points, winning the tourney title.
“We’re two different teams,” Bjork said when it was over. “That was our issue all day.” The first set with Florence, she said, was the best the girls played all day. “When we were communicating and moving as a team, we did great. Everything was clicking.”
The Ladycats were much harder to handle in the second set. “We were able to stick with it and play hard enough to win.” Her hope, though, is that the girls fight the urge to play down to their opponent’s level. “We need to get over that.”
Lexi Gussert, 64 kills, 17 aces, 10 digs, 12 blocks. Michaela Steiro, 17 kills; Hannah Marinoff, 6 digs; Maria Stankewicz, 98 assists,, 7 digs; Kendra Campbell, 23 kills. Libby Shamion, 13 kills, 10 aces.
• The Lady Trojans hosted North Dickinson Sept. 17, and while FP earned a 3-0 win, the scores (26-24, 25-16, 25-23) showed the Nordics gave them problems. “We pulled this one out,” said Coach Bjork.
The lead changed seven times in the first set, as neither team could break away. The Trojans struggled with six service errors, and the Nordics served for the match. FP got the side-out, and Stankiewicz served in points 25 and 26 off kills by Steiro and Gussert.
Nobody had more than a two-point spell in the first set, but Shamion’s six and Stankewicz’s four gave FP an early 11-2 lead in set two, and ND never challenged.
Different story in set three, with the Nordics rallying to lead 14-9. But ND only earned one point on serve after that, while Stankewicz struck for four to close the gap. Single points from Adel Isaacson and Campbell got FP in front at the end.
Outside of the serving, Bjork sounded pleased, especially with her girls’ movement on the floor and some big plays at crucial moments. “Definitely happy with the improvements we are making.”
Lexi Gussert, 22 kills, 5 digs, 6 blocks; Maria Stankewicz, 27 assists, 3 kills, 3 aces; Hannah Marinoff, 3 digs; Michaela Steiro, 4 kills; Kendra Campbell, 3 kills.
On Sept. 19, the Lady Trojans visited North Central and won 3-0 (25-7, 25-14, 25-14).
The coach liked her team’s consistency and movement on the floor. “We were able to mix up our rotation a little, and the girls adjusted well.”
Gussert, 16 k, 7 aces; Stankewicz, 19 assists, 4 aces; Steiro, 3 kills; Shamion, 5 kills, 3 aces; Kelsie Hendrickson, 3 aces.
• In their only match this week, the Lady Trojans visited Rapid River Sept. 23. Next, they host West Iron on Oct. 1.