CRYSTAL FALLS—Forest Park’s great volleyball season ended Nov. 21 where it was supposed to: at Battle Creek, site of the state finals.
It ended at the hands of the perennial Class D state champions, Battle Creek St. Philip, who defeated the Lady Trojans in the semifinals 3-0, on scores of 25-14, 25-22, 25-17.
Forest Park finishes its year with a record of 31-2-5. When it was all over, Coach Kim Bjork expressed her gratitude for all the support the team had.
“No one can match the support Forest Park gives to their student-athletes,” she wrote.
“I’m proud of what these girls accomplished this year. They lost one match at the beginning of the season and didn’t lose again until the state semis. That is impressive!”
The team’s final week started with a pep rally Tuesday morning, Nov. 19, and then a bus ride to Manistique for the state quarterfinal match against Brimley. The girls were told to pack for five days.
The biggest surprise about the Brimley match was how lopsided it was most of the time. The Lady Trojans breezed to a 3-0 win on scores of 25-8, 25-14, 25-17.
The first two sets were horribly one-sided. In the first, Brimley servers could only win one point. Forest Park steadily pulled away on two by Libby Shamion, three by Lexi Gussert, two by Kelsi Hendrickson, six by Kendra Campbell and three more by Shamion to finish it off.
In the second, the Trojans broke off to an 8-2 start on four from Campbell and two from Shamion. This time, Brimley got its attack working, and a pair of threes (by Clarissa Kelly and Kitty Breen) tied the score at 11. But the end wasn’t far off: Hannah Marinoff served in three winners, and Shamion struck for the final five, putting the Lady Trojans up 2-0 in the match.
The Bays had the biggest girl on the floor, 6-3 Hana Vesela, and she was a power at the net. But Vesala didn’t have the all-around skills of Gussert, and a teammate came in to play back row for her. As Lady Trojan fans know, Gussert rules the floor wherever she goes.
Brimley missed its first two serves of the third set, but Forest Park also struggled on serve. The Bays got going with a pair of twos to lead 8-4. But Campbell and Shamion, as they have all post-season, won points and pulled Forest Park into a one-point lead, 13-12.
The decisive factor was Forest Park’s attack, which tightened up and didn’t allow the Bays a single point on serve after the first rotation. Marinoff served four points, and Hendrickson added three more, including an ace off the net cord, as the Lady Trojans finished off the match and the quarterfinal win.
Lexi Gussert, 11 kills, 2 aces, 3 digs; Kendra Campbell, 4 aces, 2 kills, 3 digs; Maria Stankewicz, 14 assists, 3 digs, 2 kills; Hannah Marinoff, 5 digs; Libby Shamion, 4 aces, 4 digs, 2 kills; Kelsi Hendrickson, 4 aces; Adel Isaacson, 3 kills; Michaela Steiro, 2 kills.
The Lady Trojans’ bus went to St. Ignace just after the match with Brimley and continued on down to Alma College Wednesday. From there to Battle Creek, where they faced St. Philip in the second semifinal match.
A few facts about St. Philip:
--They entered the finals with seven straight Class D volleyball titles, going back to the winter 2006-07 season—and added No. 8 on Nov. 23 over Waterford Our Lady. The Tigers have played in every championship match since the 2001-02 season.
--Before there was a statewide tournament, they won 10 Lower Peninsula Class D titles during the 1980s and ‘90s.
--Forest Park played St. Philip twice before in the state semifinals, losing in three sets in 2011 and in five sets in 2007. St. Philip went on to the state title both times.
--The school is a 10-minute walk away from the Kellogg Center, site of the state finals. Forest Park High School is 504 miles away from Kellogg Arena.
St. Philip attacked hard early in the first set, building up a huge 16-2 lead before the Lady Trojans knew what hit them.
The Lady Trojans played their best in the second set, with Gussert leading the team. After St. Philip took an early 7-2 lead, the big senior struck with an eight-point service spell, including four aces, putting the Lady Trojans in front 12-8.
The Tigers came back to tie it on a series of Trojan attack errors, and the match went back and forth until St. Philip went up 22-19 on a three-point turn by Megan Parker. They stayed there, going ahead 2-0.
“We had chances to take the second set,” Bjork said, “but just couldn’t get it done.”
The Tigers roared through the third set. An early 7-2 lead put St. Philip in the driver’s seat. Twos by Stankewicz and Marinoff and a three from Shamion cut their lead to 16-14, but they got closer than two, and before long St. Philip had clinched another finals date.
Bjork said Forest Park struggled at the service line and with serve receive. “Too many unforced errors.”
Gussert, 16 kills, 4 aces, 12 digs; Stankewicz, 19 assists, 9 digs; Steiro, 2 kills, 2 assists; Campbell, 2 kills, 2 digs; Shamion, 3 kills, 2 assists, 3 aces, 7 digs; Marinoff, 5 digs.
The semifinal match was the final volleyball action for Gussert, Campbell and Marinoff, the team’s seniors. “I’m really going to miss our three stellar seniors,” said the coach. “Lexi has elevated her level of play with every match in the post-season. She’s irreplaceable.”
But Forest Park will have plenty of talent returning in 2014—five underclassmen who saw a lot of playing time in the post-season, “and that is huge for future post-season play.” They will be joined by girls promoted from Ashley Metz’s dominant JV team.