LAKE LINDEN - Facing a talented team with significantly more height at virtually every position, the Lake Linden-Hubbell volleyball team dug deep and took advantage of what they do best Thursday night.
The Lakes passed with precision. They hustled defensively. They managed to pull off the tight-rope combination of aggressive serving with few errors.
And most of all, they endured.
Houghton’s Ashlyn Kero attacks the double block of Lake Linden-Hubbell’s Carli Ongie?(13)?and Abby McConnon during Thursday’s match in Lake Linden. Houghton’s Kayla Jacobson covers the block. (DMG photo by Michael Bleach)
In a match that reached the edge of two hours, with long, defensive points stringing out the tension, the Class D Lakes showed off just a bit more tenacity and focus to overcome Class B Houghton 3-2 (25-22, 20-25, 25-10, 17-25, 15-13).
"My favorite quote is, 'It's not how tall you are, it's how tall you play,'" LL-H libero Erin Gast said. "So we played tall tonight. I am just so excited."
LL-H coach Karen Keranen has seen her team reach high levels of performance multiple times this year, but with the high peaks the low valleys have always followed.
The Lakes stayed steady throughout against the Gremlins, bouncing back nicely from second and fourth set losses and a tight fifth set that saw Lake Linden trail 10-6 before recovering with a four and three-point run.
The hosts rattled off three-straight pressure-packed points to win the match. LL-H?took advantage of a missed touch call to sideout and Ciara Larson (nine kills) put down a momentous kill to set up match point.
Another defensive battle followed before Houghton hit long to award the match to Lake Linden.
"I love the fifth game," Gast, a senior, said. "It is always just so exciting. I think we played steady the whole time and it paid off for us."
"The biggest thing for us is, we did not get down," Keranen added. "That is huge for us as a young team. We stayed emotionally up the whole way."
The error numbers on both sides probably paint the best picture.
The Lakes gave away just six points on their own serve (and came up with 13 aces) to keep the pressure on Houghton, but even more impressively, received serve the best Keranen has seen this year, finishing with just five serve-receive errors by her counting and putting 50 passes on target.
The service game played the biggest role in the crucial third set as Lake Linden went on runs of six and five points to take a commanding lead and cruise to a 25-10 set win.
"It is kind of a mind game because serve receiver is so mental. So if you get in their heads that way you can mess up their offense and (negate their tall height)," Gast said.
"When you can control the ball from the start, it gives you the better offense," Keranen added. "We just tried to place the ball well and control it."
And when Lake Linden wasn't dictating the action early, their defense often came to save them late.
Gast finished with a game-high 29 digs - though Houghton coach John Christianson said it felt more like 50 - while Larson (13), and setters Carli Ongie (10) and Sarah Audette (10) each kept busy as well.
"That is their M.O.," Christianson said. "They are going to play tough defense, they are going to keep balls off the floor and they are going to push them back. they just outhustled us."