By CRAIG REMSBURG
For The Daily News
NEGAUNEE - A day after signing a National Letter of Intent to play basketball at Michigan State University, Lexi Gussert showed once again she has some considerable volleyball talent, as well.
Adelle Whitefoot/The Mining Journal Photos
Forest Park’s Maria Stankewicz sets the ball up for an attack Thursday.
The Forest Park senior recorded 29 kills, an ace and four blocks Thursday to lead the Lady Trojans to a 3-1 (25-14, 25-15, 22-25, 25-18) Class D regional championship victory over Stephenson at Negaunee's Lakeview Memorial Gymnasium.
Forest Park will now meet Brimley Tuesday night at Manistique High School in quarterfinal tournament play.
"She's a great athlete," FP head coach Kim Bjork said of the 6-foot Gussert. "Most coaches never get to coach an athlete like her and I appreciate her every day.
"She's a team leader on the floor, does everything she can to get the win and is a real competitor."
With her team trailing Stephenson 15-12 in the fourth game, Gussert took it upon herself to spark a rally that resulted in FP improving to 30-1-5 overall and moving on in tournament play.
She scored nine of the Trojans' final 13 points - on eight kills and a block - to power the comeback win.
"Being a senior, I need to be a leader," Gussert said, "but the whole team did a great job playing together.
"We did a good job covering tonight. We made a lot of great passes."
She was also lethal in the second game. After FP had taken a 25-14 win in Game 1, Gussert recorded nine kills and a block as the Trojans claimed a 25-15 second set triumph.
"She's so dynamic," Bjork said. "She knows the floor and where to push the ball."
Libby Shamion added three aces and Adel Isaacson two kills in Game 2, but Stephenson coach Sara Johnson said it was Gussert who did the most damage.
"She's good and smart," Johnson said of the Trojans' star. "My blockers had a hard time finding her. "
Despite being down 2-0, the Eagles (29-7-1) came back in Game 3, overcoming a 13-9 deficit to grind out the 25-22 triumph.
Lexi Johnson, who came up with 14 kills and three blocks on the night, turned in seven kills in the third set to fuel Stephenson's victory.
"After losing the first two games, it's tough to come back," Stephenson coach Johnson said. "But we adjusted our defense ... and the girls were more tenacious."
Said Gussert: "We started getting comfortable and stayed on our heels."
Stephenson took a 7-2 lead in Game 4, but couldn't hold off Gussert down the stretch.
"When we need someone to take control, we turn to Lexi," Bjork said.
Shamion wound up with four kills, six aces and six digs for FP. Maria Stankewicz posted 38 assists, Isaacson finished with seven kills and Kendra Campbell added six.
Kelsey Johnson came up with 19 digs and Amelia Starynski 11 assists for the Eagles.
Summary (kills-aces-solo blocks)
Stephenson - L. Johnson, 17-0-3; Kelsey Johnson, 4-0-0; Duprey, 1-0-0; Karlina Johnson, 1-2-0; Martin, 1-0-0; Starynski, 0-2-0. Totals, 24-4-3.
Forest Park - Gussert, 29-1-4; Shamion, 4-6-0; Campbell, 6-1-1; Isaacson, 7-0-0; Stankewicz, 3-3-0; Steiro, 1-0-0; Marinoff, 0-2-0; Hendrickson, 0-1-0. Totals, 50-14-5.
Score by game:
Stephenson 14 15 25 18
Forest Park 25 25 22 25
Assists, Stephenson 17 (Amelia Starynski, 11), Forest Park, 45 (Maria Stankewicz, 38); team blocks, Stephenson 3 (Lexi Johnson, 3), Forest Park 5 (Lexi Gussert, 4); digs, Stephenson 63 (Kelsey Johnson, 19); Forest Park 29 (Libby Shamion and Kelsi Hendrickson, 6 each).
GLADSTONE - They came, they saw, they conquered.
Calumet completed an important part of its post-season mission Thursday night, retaining its Class C regional volleyball title with a 25-20, 25-15, 25-19 triumph over the Gwinn Modeltowners in the Gladstone High School gym.
"Gwinn gave us a nice challenge," said Calumet coach Lisa Twardzik. "It was a great match for both teams and their fans. It was exciting to be here. I think I lost some of my hearing being in front of the Gwinn fans. Everybody in the U.P. is fighting to improve the level of competition up here, and I think that was evident in tonight's match."
The victory sends the Copper Kings to Tuesday's state quarterfinals at Manistique or St. Ignace, where they'll face Beal City.
Beal City advanced by eliminating Traverse City St. Francis 3-1 in a regional final at McBain Thursday night.