“Big T’s in the house!” That’s what teammates say after Forest Park senior Tanner Bartczak fires a kill at an opponent. Here, she takes aim at an open area on Kingsford’s side of the net. In back are teammates Mindy DeNell and Kaitlin Shamion.
CRYSTAL FALLS—If Coach Kim Bjork wanted a really, really tough test for her unbeaten Forest Park volleyball team in the final week of the regular season, she got just what she wanted when Kingsford visited the Eddie Chambers Gym on Oct. 25.
It was the final home match for the Lady Trojans and senior recognition night. But once the flowers and balloons were moved to the side and the tears wiped away, the teams gave the lucky spectators a tremendous match—a rare showdown between two highly skilled squads that left it all on the floor.
When it was over, the Lady Trojans still were unbeaten, winning 3-1 on scores of 25-14, 25-27, 25-23, 25-23.
The regular season ended at Bark River on Oct. 27, with Forest Park winning 3-0 on scores of 25-11, 25-23 and 25-12.
The Lady Trojans finish the regular season with an overall record (including tournament matches) of 30-0-4. They again posted a perfect Skyline Conference record, 12-0.
Forest Park got off to a much quicker start than Kingsford, winning the first set 25-14, with a six-point spell from Audrey Sholander and a three from Ana Cornelia.
By contrast, the second set was a close, hard-fought battle that went deep into the third rotation. Mindy DeNell’s three helped FP to a 9-7 lead, but threes from Kingsford’s Marissa Menghini and Emma Nasi put the Flivvers in front 20-16 during the second cycle.
Cornelia came back to serve two winners to tie the match at 22, and the teams traded the serve after that, tying it at 23, 24 and 25. Libby DeClark’s kill got the serve back for KHS, and her block ended the set.
FP moved ahead in the third set on a four from Sholander, a two from Tanner Bartczak and five more by Cornelia. The Lady Trojans led 19-8 and later 24-17. But FP lost the serve, and Brooke Sanford struck for five, getting the Flivvers to within 24-23 before a hit into the net gave FP a 25-23 win.
Set four was marked by consecutive long service spells. Bartczak took the serve at 11-11 and sent in six winners, including two aces, for a 17-11 lead. When Kingsford got the rally back, Margo Wittenbach fired five, tying it at 17-all.
It was also tied at 19, 20 and 22. Singles by Sholander and DeNell helped the Trojans edge ahead 24-22. Kingsford fended off the Lady Trojans on DeClark’s kill, but Bartczak banged home the match winner.
“We need that,” said Coach Bjork. “We’re seeing things we aren’t doing well in that higher paced match—things we should be doing well at this point.”
Those vulnerabilities aren’t exposed in the usual slower-paced match—only tough opponents can do that. Bjork talked about problems with the girls not transitioning fast enough or too quickly. “When you have a high intensity team like Kingsford, you see those things.”
Also, the Flivvers anticipated some of FP’s big hitters, watching them set up for power attacks so they can set up blocks. “We told the girls they have to hit around blocks.”
Again, few U.P. opponents are good enough to do that—but the tough teams in regionals and beyond are. “There are teams that are twice the battle that Kingsford was, and they are going to push us to our limit.”
The coach also noticed that her girls seemed tired after four demanding sets. “That’s not good at this point in the season.
“Overall, I’m happy. We played well, and we started out strong. I’m happy that we got pushed like we were tonight.”
Top stats: Sholander, five kills, five digs; Kaitlin Shamion, 22 assists; Bartczak, seven kills, three aces, four digs, two blocks; DeNell, five assists, two aces; Lexi Gussert, 15 kills, nine blocks, four digs; Cornelia, three kills, three digs.
FP ended its season with a 3-0 win at Bark River-Harris. Coach Bjork noted “ups and downs” after a strong first set
Top stats: Sholander, four kills; Shamion, 19 assists, three aces; Bartczak, six kills; Gussert, 12 kills; Abby Sommers, three aces; Gina Graff, five aces.
Coach Ashley Metz’s JV team also finished the season with a perfect 12-0 mark in the Skyline Conference.
• The Class D District 127 tournament at Wakefield-Marenisco High School starts Nov. 1 with one match—the Lady Trojans against Watersmeet at 6 p.m.
The semifinals are on Thursday, Nov. 3. The host school takes on Bessemer at 5 p.m., followed by the Nov. 1 winner against Ewen-Trout Creek at about 6:30.
The two Thursday winners return on Friday, Nov. 4, for the championship match at 6 p.m. The District 127 winner advances to the regional tourney at Baraga Nov. 8 and 10.
“We have a lot of work ahead of us,” said Coach Bjork, “and every team starts with a clean slate. Hopefully we can continue our success.”