By Daver Karnosky
PAINESDALE — For two sets and part of a third, it appeared that the Jeffers Jets volleyball team was well on its way to yet another 3-0 victory, this time over the visiting Hancock Bulldogs. They won the first two sets, 25-21 and 27-25.
They then led 11-7 in the third set before the Bulldogs found some confidence. According to coach Kristan Coleman, once she got the lineup on the floor that she wanted, they started to swing big, rather than conservatively, and that made all the difference. The Bulldogs won the final three sets, 25-20, 25-21 and 15-8, handing the Jets their first loss of the season in the process.
“I screwed up the lineup, No. 1,” she said. “I didn’t go with the one that I wanted, but they adjusted really well to it. We made some on-the-fly changes, and I think they finally started gelling. I also told my hitters I felt like we’re playing conservative. I have big hitters and I was like, ‘You guys, we are going down swinging in this game. We are not playing it safe.’”
It took three sets for the Bulldogs’ defense to find ways to around the tall front the Jets have with senior Kaeda Rajala, sophomore Mia Nordstrom and senior Sara Johnson. Once they figured things out, Coleman felt her team’s defense started to shine.
“I feel like we started putting up a significant block against them, which slowed them down quite a bit,” said Coleman. “Working our defense around that, and then trying to get my girls to see when they’re going to tip, when they’re going to hit, and the angle of their body. I felt like our defense started reading that pretty well.”
Jets coach Rachel Sondergrath liked her team’s start with the two set wins, but then felt like a key component of their game broke down as the match wore on.
“The first sets, we did communicate really well,” she said. “All of our girls were fresh, obviously, and were able to put together plays. The third, fourth, and fifth games, our passing wasn’t there, so we couldn’t have an offense. You have to play defense before you can have an offense.”
Another area of the game where the Jets struggled was serving. Throughout the night, they turned the ball over with service errors, which gave points, and control of the match, to the Bulldogs, rather than forcing Hancock to earn points.
“This has been our worst serving night for our entire season so far,” said Sondergrath. “I don’t know if they were just in their heads or what happened, but that really killed us there.”
When they needed some big swings, the Bulldogs often turned to junior Brooke Koskela. She racked up 13 kills, five aces, and 16 digs on the night. She also added four blocks.
“All around, she was phenomenal,” Coleman said. “I was watching her, (what) I call layers, when she’s stepping in front of another player to take the ball, which is exactly what they’re supposed to do. She took charge all the way around out there.
“From the offense and defensive side, she was all over the court.”
When Koskela was not creating offense, senior Brielle Kero was the next Bulldog up. She finished her night with eight kills, five aces, and 10 digs. Junior Ella Storm also had a strong night with four aces and 14 digs. Senior Lana Aho added six kills and eight blocks. Junior Emily L’Esperance was yet another driver of both the offense with 26 assists and the defense 12 blocks.
As the Bulldogs gained momentum in the match, Kero’s serving became more and more valuable to her team as she started to find ways to chip away at the Jets’ serve-receive.
“I just kept telling her, ‘Just focus on your hand contact. Just keep focusing on that,’” Coleman said. “You could tell she was doing that, and eventually she found a rhythm.”
For the Jets, Rajala did everything she could to will the Jets to victory. She finished with a match-high 16 kills and added seven blocks. As the match wore on, however, she suffered from leg cramps, which slowed her down.
“She is our best girl on offense,” Sondergrath said. “She really came through tonight.
“We try and get her the ball as much as we can, because she is a very reliable hitter, but, unfortunately there, she tried to play through (the cramps) and she just couldn’t.”
Another bright spot for the Jets was the play of sophomore Mia Nordstrom. Nordstrom continues to show significant progress in her game this season. She finished with 10 kills, four blocks and four aces on the night.
“She really is one of the strongest players on our team, and I rely on her,” said Sondergrath. “If somebody is not passing well, I have her step in and take that, because I know she can do it.”
Coleman felt that the win was a key step forward in her team’s development from the start of the season to this point.
“I think it’s huge, because we scrimmaged Jeffers earlier on and we lost four sets,” she said. “We won one on them. So, I think we knew we had our work cut out for us, and we’re still monkeying around with our lineup. I have 15 talented girls on the bench, and, honestly, any one of them could play at any time.”
On the other side of the court, Sondergrath wants her team to learn some lessons from the loss and grow from those errors and mistakes they made in the match.
“This is everything,” she said. “This is one of the tougher teams that is on our schedule for the year. So, we can go back (and) watch film. We can learn from our mistakes here. It was a good learning game.”
The Jets head to Baraga for the Baraga Invite this weekend. The Bulldogs will travel to take part in the Gladstone Invite this weekend before preparing next week for a key matchup with the Calumet Copper Kings on Thursday.