By RON DEUTER
IRON MOUNTAIN - For the first time since 2002, a school other than Iron Mountain will advance from this area's MHSAA Class C district volleyball tournament.
Theresa Peterson/The Daily News Photos
West Iron County’s Cassilyn Pellizzer (6) jousts with Iron Mountain’s Gianna Hill at the net during Tuesday’s Class C district semifinal volleyball match. Wykons Emilie Christensen (9) and Alexis Golfis (2) back up the play.
Iron Mountain, winners of 10 consecutive district titles, was eliminated from tournament play by West Iron County in convincing fashion, 25-23, 25-16, 23-25, 25-11, in the opening match of the District 94 tournament here Tuesday evening.
Ironwood, holding off Norway 3-2 (25-18, 25-13, 15-25, 24-26, 15-11) in the other semifinal will face the Wykons for the district title Thursday at 6 p.m. inside the Iron Mountain gymnasium.
"I think all the girls had grooves in different games," Wykons coach Brenda Grubbs said of her team's effort. "The hustle on the floor and defense was unbelievable tonight."
No statistics were available from the Wykons bench, but the attack up front was led by middle Cassilyn Pellizzer along with senior Emilie Christensen.
They combined for 12 points in the decisive fourth set.
"We came with the right game tonight," Grubbs said. "We kind of practiced something different this week and I didn't know what to expect in the game. It was fun."
West Iron was a sub .500 club during the regular season, but that'll happen when a team faces the likes of Forest Park, Calumet and Houghton among others.
Grubbs said the team, a core of juniors, improved greatly as the season has progressed. Moving Pellizzer from the outside to the middle midway through the campaign also made a big difference.
"It was just a natural fit," Grubbs said.
Iron Mountain was playing without recently injured senior setter Katelynn Johnson and in a new offense as a result.
"We did a lot of back-row hitting, free passing over the net, basically just made mental errors," Mountaineers coach Jeanne Newberry said. "Our girls tried to play it safe and West Iron County came out and started pounding the ball, and pounding the ball is the name of the game."
Maria Pirkola's 10 kills led Iron Mountain. Abby Gerhard had seven digs, and Sarah Girard chipped in five kills and five digs.
"Right now the girls feel like they lost," Newberry said. "But winning district is not an easy thing. These girls had a great season, went 11-1 to win league, received honors in conference. These girls are winners.
"When you come into a tournament, everyone is 0-0. We just got beat tonight. That's all there is to it."
Ironwood opened against Norway in control, cruising to victories in the first two sets. But the Knights responded in the middle sets to turn a potential sweep into a five-set thriller.
"I didn't expect that after the first two sets," Ironwood coach Lisa Graham said, her team 12-2 and second place in the Indianhead Conference this season. "The match evened out. I was surprised. I didn't really know what Norway had at all."
Norway dominated set three with Heather Evosevich, Leah Mattson and Bailey Grayvold fueling the offense. Mattson finished with 15 kills. Evosevich had 10, and Grayvold added eight.
"Leah Mattson played a great game for us," Knights coach Nicole Anderson said. "She has been getting strong with each match and I look forward to seeing her grow next year.
"Our seniors also performed well tonight. It is going to really hard not seeing Bailey and Heather in the gym next summer. They are great girls and we will miss them."
Set four turned into a tight affair with barely a point separating the teams most of the way. A trio of points by Mattson with two spikes and a tip along with a block by Evosevich helped the Knights to a 20-15 cushion.
Norway went ahead 24-18 on a block by Grayvold, but Ironwood didn't let go. The Red Devils scored the next six straight to force an extra point before Norway escaped with an ace by Melanie Kurth.
The final set was another tense back-and-forth battle knotted as late 10-10 before a tip by Tiah Pusakulich broke the stalemate in favor of Ironwood.
Danielle McCullough put down an ace to make it 13-10 and a couple of unforced errors by Norway helped seal the win for Ironwood.
"Tonight was a tough loss, especially when we did not play to our fullest potential," Anderson said, noting the team totaled 18 missed serves in the match. "Our unforced errors were the difference in this game. We knew what needed to be done to be successful tonight, but unfortunately we were only able to get the job done during games 3 and 4."
The Red Devils were led on the stat sheet by their seniors. Korrie Trier's 13 kills was a match high. Pusakulich added eight more, and fellow seniors Jessica Mukavitz and Danielle McCullough came up with 33 and 24 digs.
"Senior leadership was the difference," Graham said. "We are very senior dominated this year and they wanted it more. They weren't going to give up."
West Iron and Ironwood met two previous times this season. The teams split a match early in the season, and the Wykons earned a win later in the year.
"We were happy with the way we played tonight," Grubbs said. "And hopefully we can come with the same effort on Thursday."
"I expect a very evenly matched game," Graham said.
Iron Mountain statistics
Abby Gerhard - 7 digs, 2 kills; Alena Herman - 1 dig; Marti Pirkola - 3 assists, 1 dig; Mandy Haferkorn - 1 dig; Sarah Girard - 5 kills, 5 digs, 1 ace; Gianna Hill - 3 kills, 4 aces, 2 blocks, 1 dig; Kari Sanford - 10 assists, 2 digs; Maria Pirkola - 10 kills, 1 ace, 5 digs, 2 blocks.
Jacey Bal - 18 digs, 2 assists; Brenda Casanova - 1 kill; Lexi Negro - 3 aces, 1 block, 10 digs, 1 kill, 17 assists; Hannah Anderson - 18 digs; Leah Mattson - 4 aces, 2 blocks, 1 dig, 15 kills, 1 assist; Heather Evosevich - 1 ace, 3 blocks, 5 digs, 10 kills, 1 assist; Melanie Kurth - 1 ace, 3 blocks, 1 dig, 2 kills; Bailey Grayvold - 1 ace, 5 blocks, 12 digs, 8 kills, 2 assists; Brandi Strong - 3 aces, 4 digs, 2 kills, 10 assists.