By RON DEUTER
KINGSFORD - With a stunning 10-0 rally to close the final set, Forest Park swept Lake Linden-Hubbell 25-23, 25-17, 25-23 to secure a spot in Thursday's MHSAA Class D Regional 32 championship match.
Theresa Peterson/The Daily News Photos
Forest Park’s Lexi Gussert (9) delivers a spike at Lake Linden’s Amanda Perreault (16).
The Lady Trojans will face Superior Central, which outlasted North Dickinson 25-20, 24-26, 25-22, 15-25, 16-14 in an earlier down-to-the-wire semifinal, played at Kingsford High School Tuesday evening.
"If that doesn't show resiliency I don't know what does," Forest Park head coach Kim Bjork said of her team's run to close the match against the Lakes. "That was impressive. I told the girls we need to forget about mistakes, push through and work hard. And they showed it tonight. I'm very proud of them."
The Trojans, behind Lexi Gussert's 21 kills, held off the Lakes in two close sets to open the match, but then found themselves trailing 23-15 in set three.
With freshmen Maria Stankewicz in control at the serving stripe, Gussert reeled off six straight kills, using both power and finesse to bring the Trojans within two at 23-21.
"You can't say enough about the girl, she's very good," Bjork said of Gussert.
Two hitting errors and two shots out of bounds by the Lakes ended the match.
"We needed to put a block on a girl we couldn't stop," Lakes coach Karen Keranen said. "We tried. We tried mixing up our blockers, but she'd cut it one way or the other, and we just couldn't seem to position our defense around the block."
Lake Linden-Hubbell never led in set one but was tied as late as 22-22. A hitting error gave a point to Forest Park, and Gussert followed with a block and closed the set with a tip for a kill.
Set two was also close until kills by Libby Shamion and Gussert followed by an ace by Gina Graff and a couple of miscues by the Lakes helped the Trojans expand a 17-15 lead.
Along with her 21 kills, Gussert collected 23 digs, 4 blocks and three aces. Gina Graff had a team-best 33 digs.
"We had girls stepping to the ball," Bjork said. "Each one made some plays. They all did great tonight. They all contributed."
Lake Linden was led by Amanda Perreault's eight kills. Ciara Larson added six more. Brittni Kisul had two kills, two blocks and a block assist.
"I'm very proud of my girls," Keranen said. "We're going to lose eight seniors. My two middles will be hard to replace, Brittni and Mandy. We had a good season. You hate to lose it that way, but Crystal is respectable to lose to. But we sure wanted them though."
In the evening's earlier semifinal, Superior Central overcame a couple of large deficits to turn back North Dickinson.
The Cougars trailed 14-7 in set one and were down 8-1 in set three, coming away with wins in both.
"We need to work on our serve receive because we allowed some runs we shouldn't have," Superior Central coach Kris Bray said. "Even still, we stayed aggressive and that kept the momentum on our side. We made mistakes, but we were aggressive at the net, and I think that just kind of took the wind out of their sails a bit."
Kelsey Coleman's 15 kills paced the Cougars. Vanessa Freberg added 12, as did Mikayla Barrows.
Kyla Johns came off the bench and totaled seven aces. Her serving helped turn the tide in he third set when the Cougars went from a 17-17 tie to a 22-18 advantage.
The fifth set was tied 8-8 before two errors by the Nordics put the Cougars in front.
Miranda Jacobson, who had a monster game for the Nordics with 18 kills, 10 blocks and 18 digs, put down a tip to bring North Dickinson within one at 13-12, but Coleman blocked Jacobson on the next point.
Marrisa Jauquet knocked an over ball down at the net to tie the set 14-14 for North Dickinson, but the Nordics were whistled for a blocking error on the next point and Coleman followed with the match-winning kill.
"Our passing wasn't there tonight," North Dickinson coach Sandy Haustein said. "I thought (setter) Gina (Rotter) had to run a lot. Our serve receive wasn't getting the ball up where it needed to be and we gave them a lot of free balls."
Chelsey Stroud and Kimberly Cary each added four kills. Rotter finished with 20 assists, and Taylor Steele had 13 digs.
"We hit the ball good once we started hitting it," Haustein said. "But we weren't able to hit enough.
"I'm very proud of these girls. I never expected this. I couldn't ask for anything more. They really improved throughout the year. We came in and gave a good shot - played five close sets - but we just came up short."
Forest Park and Superior Central begin at 6 p.m. Thursday from Kingsford High School.
"I know that, traditionally, they have a solid program," Bray said of the Trojans. "They are well coached. I expect them to come out swinging away and being very aggressive. It's a notch up from what we're used to seeing. It's going to be an eye-opener."
The teams did not meet during the regular season.
"We're going to play our game and if we need to make adjustments, we will make adjustments," Bjork said. "Superior Central has a couple of big girls. They swing hard. They will be a threat, but if we play our game and work hard I think we can come out on top."
Forest Park: Lexi Gussert - 21 kills, 3 aces, 23 digs, 4 blocks; Mindy DeNell - 2 kills, 9 digs, 1 assist; Gina Graff - 1 kill, 1 ace, 33 digs, 1 assist; Abby Sommers - 2 aces, 6 digs; Maria Stankewicz - 1 ace, 4 digs, 24 assists, 2 blocks; Libby Shamion - 2 kills, 8 digs, 1 assist; Kendra Campbell - 1 kill; Mary Grandahl - 2 blocks.
Lake Linden-Hubbell (defense not available): Sarah Audette - 2 kills; Brittni Kisul - 2 kills, 2 blocks, 2 aces, 1 block assist; Ciara Larson - 6 kills, 2 block assists, 3 aces; Brooke Corrigan - 3 kills, 1 ace; Jaime Middleton - 1 block; Amanda Perreault - 8 kills, 1 block assist.
North Dickinson: Kimberly Cary - 3 aces, 4 kills; Chelsey Stroud - 3 aces, 4 kills; Miranda Jacobson - 18 kills, 10 blocks, 18 digs; Gina Rotter - 20 assists; Marissa Jauquet - 4 kills; Taylor Steele - 13 digs.
Superior Central: Mikayla Barrows - 2 aces, 12 kills, 2 assists, 1 block, 11 digs; Kyla Johns - 7 aces; Teslyn Tyner - 4 kills, 1 assist, 17 digs; Vanessa Freberg - 3 aces, 12 kills, 3 assists, 3 blocks, 28 digs; Brooke Pasanen - 6 kills, 1 assist, 13 digs; Kelsey Coleman - 3 aces, 15 kills, 2 assists, 21 digs; Lindsey Richmond - 4 aces, 1 kill, 32 assists, 11 digs.