Forest Park’s volleyball team poses with the regional chanmpionship trophy the Lady Trojans won Nov. 10 at Baraga. Front row, from left: managers Journee Taylor and Maria Stankewicz, Mina Stefanovic, Audrey Sholander, Tanner Bartczak, Ana Cornelia, Mindy DeNell, Kaitlin Shamion, manager Libby Shamion. Back row: Coach Kim Bjork, Hannah Marinoff, Kendra Campbell, Gina Graff, Lexi Gusssert, Maria DeMuri, Abby Sommers, Samantha Nylund, assistant coaches Katie Bonacorsi and Ashley Metz.
BARAGA—After blasting past Lake Linden-Hubbell in their Division 4 regional title match Nov. 10, Forest Park’s volleyball team immediately focused on their real mission this post-season: beating the Pellston Hornets in the state quarterfinals.
On Tuesday night, they get their chance: The Lady Trojans and Hornets will face each other Nov. 15, at 6 p.m. Central Time (7 Eastern) at Manistique High School.
The quarterfinal winner advances to the state semifinals and finals later this week in Battle Creek, but that seems almost secondary to the Lady Trojans. They want Pellston. Badly.
After all, Pellston beat Forest Park in the quarters last year, and the Lady Trojans felt they didn’t play their best in that match. One year later, they want to make amends. After winning the regional trophy, that’s all the seniors were talking about.
Tanner Bartczak: “We feel like it’s revenge. I feel like our confidence is high—we’ve worked so hard this season. This has been our goal: to get past Pellston or the quarterfinals We’re finally there, so now we’re going to finish it!”
Kaitlin Shamion: “We want revenge. We want to beat them.”
Ana Cornelia: “This is what we’ve been working for all year—to make it past regionals. We’re hoping to make it to at least semifinals and beyond. Our ultimate goal is making it down there. We’ve worked so hard for this.”
Coach Kim Bjork: “We know the task isn’t an easy one—it’s going to be a lot of work. But we want to give ourselves an opportunity to redeem ourselves from last year. We have six girls returning who started last year, and they all got a taste of what it’s like to play in a quarterfinal game.”
Pellston is known for its big hitters, Bjork said. “They’re very aggressive at the net, and we’re going to see hits we haven’t seen all season.”
The Hornets eliminated FP in the 2008 and 2010 quarters and stopped Hancock in the 2009 quarters. Forest Park is hoping for a repeat of 2007, when they beat Pellston in the quarterfinals, on their way to the state semis.
The Lady Trojans go into the match with a season won-lost record of 35-0-4. Their 35th match win was over Lake Linden-Hubbell in the regional finals. It was a 3-0 sweep, on scores of 25-14, 25-10 and 25-13.
The Lakes got off to a good start, and a pair of service doubles got them an early 9-4 lead in the first set. Momentum turned when Mindy DeNell took serve with the Trojans trailing 10-7.
Eight serves later, FP was ahead 15-10, and the Lakes’ confidence seemed shattered. While DeNell didn’t serve any aces, she was on target and was backed by kills from Bartczak and Shamion at the net.
Lake Linden didn’t win a point on serve for the rest of the set, and four from Shamion wrapped up a 25-14 win.
In the last two sets, none of the Lakes could win more than two points on serve at a time, while the Lady Trojans often got them in bunches. In set two, Shamion struck for four early, and Lexi Gussert followed with three. Later, Gina Graff powered in seven straight, making the score 23-9.
In the third set, threes from Gussert and DeNell built up a 13-5 lead. Bartczak made it 20-7 with a six-pack, and Shamion’s two got FP to the verge of victory. Gussert applied the coup de grace with a hard kill that the Lakes couldn’t control.
“When we get on serving streaks like that,” said Bjork, “it’s hard to stop us. We start gaining momentum. When we’re up and talking and playing aggressively, we’re hard to stop.”
Gussert led the attack with 16 kills, four blocks and four digs; Bartczak had nine kills, eight digs and two aces. Audrey Sholander added seven kills and six digs, DeNell had six digs, and Graff had five digs. That’s a lot of digging, and it buried Lake Linden.
It was anything but easy two nights earlier when the Lady Trojans faced Engadine in the semifinal match Nov. 8. FP swept to a 3-0 win, but the scores—25-22, 25-23, 25-20—show how close it was.
Forest Park had to fight hard after trailing by seven points late in the second set and by five in the third set. “We were fortunate to win this match,” Coach Bjork said later.
Two early FP service errors gave the Eagles a early break, and Krista Metcalf’s three put Engadine up 7-4. Audrey Sholander took momentum by striking for six a little later. The Eagles’ Katie Hobbs later served in four, including several aces, to tie it at 19. Coach Bjork called time, FP got the side-out it badly needed, and Sholander later served in the last two points.
In the second set, the Lady Trojans couldn’t get on a scoring run, as the Eagles got a three and a two and built up a 19-12 lead. But the Lady Trojans fought hard from that unenviable position. Gussert ended their rally and served in two (kills by Bartzak and DeNell), cutting it to 19-15.
Engadine still led 21-17 before DeNell served in three winners, cutting the gap to 21-20. FP’s defense came up big, denying points to the Eagles’ last three servers. Gussert’s soft kill got the serve to Cornelia with FP behind 23-22, and she served up three to win the set and a 2-0 lead.
FP made consecutive bad serves early in the third set, as Engadine raced out to a 7-2 lead. Again, the Lady Trojans fought back. DeNell struck for five and briefly put FP ahead 13-12, Later, Shamion served two winners (off Gussert kills) for a 20-18 FP lead.
Again, Forest Park’s no-nonsense defense shut down Engadine’s scoring late in the set. A single from Gussert and two from Sholander earned the win—Bartczak’s kill ended it.
It was anything but easy, though. Both teams fought hard and forced the other to some spectacular efforts in an exhausting, demanding match.
Coach Bjork said her team committed more unforced errors, especially on serve, than in any match this year. “We can’t have that.
“At least they responded well. Tanner really held us in there for most of the sets. She was awesome at the net, and we need that.”
Stats: Bartczak, 13 kills, three blocks, three digs; Sholander, seven kills, six digs; Gussert, 11 kills, three blocks, eight digs; Shamion, 32 assists; Cornelia, three digs.
Later, the regional champions’ coach said her two assistants—Ashley Metz and Katie Bonacorsi—have been invaluable to her this season. “I couldn’t do what we’re doing without Ashley and Katie. They’re really developing these girls at certain facets of the game a little more than I can.
“Six eyes are better than two, and that’s one thing we’re fortunate with right now: We’ve got such a solid group working with these girls.”
• If the Lady Trojans defeat Pellston, they will head for Battle Creek and the state semifinals and finals late this week.
Their semifinal match would start at 2:45 p.m. Central Time (3:45 Eastern) on Thursday, Nov. 17, at the Kellogg Arena. The state title match starts at 9 a.m. (10 Eastern) on Saturday, Nov. 19.
The semifinal matches will be streamed live on the foxsportsdetroit.com and mhsaa.tv websites. The state championship match will be carried live on Fox Sports Detroit Plus.
The mhsaa.tv website will not carry the championship match live, but will archive it for later viewing.