ISHPEMING - There's nothing like a little adversity to make you play well.
Count the Ishpeming High School varsity volleyball team in that group as the Hematites prevailed over visiting Norway on Tuesday night, 25-21, 25-23, 25-17.
A week earlier again in their gym, IHS played three straight 26-24 games before dispatching Negaunee in four games.
Ishpeming’s Natalee Dobson sends the ball over the net during a match on Tuesday at Ishpeming High School. (Journal photo by Matt Keiser)
This week, the Hematites (6-2-4 overall, 2-1 Mid-Peninsula Conference) only needed the minimum three games, though the outcome of all of them was in doubt most of the way.
"When we get in really tight games and we know we need to get it going, we seem to know we can get there," Ishpeming senior libero Caitlin Korvela said. "When we get down, we play together as a team better."
She said that's a marked improvement over what happened at times last season, when the team would seemingly give up when it got in an early hole.
"Our girls are still getting used to each other," Hematites coach Amy Rautiola said of her relatively young team as two of its best hitters are sophomore Jessica Spencer and freshman Sinead Korvela.
"I'm really happy with how they're pulling through, even when they're behind. That's one thing you can't teach a team."
But she's hoping they'll learn to play better with the lead, otherwise the Hematites will continue to play nothing but close games.
On Tuesday, Ishpeming raced to a 12-7 lead in Game 1 as the mistake-prone Knights kept failing to make big plays. But Norway came back several times, tying the score twice but never taking the lead before Ishpeming prevailed 25-21.
"We're going through some adversity right now," said coach Nicole Anderson of Norway (2-2 M-PC) about a team with two starters back from last season. "We've had a lot of illness and injury knocking some of our players out, and we're just trying to weather this storm."
Rautiola found something to work on in practice for the rest of this week.
"We seemed to have a lack of communication at times between the front row and the back row," she said. "Our back row wasn't always ready to dig when our blockers had a touch."
Rautiola explained that it's a difficult task when the front row is able to tip the ball as it's coming over, since those players with hands extended are changing the ball's trajectory after it's already reached Ishpeming's side of the net. Preparation, she said, is key.
Norway turned the tables in Game 2, jumping out to a 5-0 lead and staying ahead until Ishpeming senior Brittany Doney tied the score 20-20 by using one of her four blocks in the match and tipped the ball to the floor.
Ishpeming didn't take the lead for good until 24-23 when Spencer hit a smash that a Norway defender couldn't handle, winning the game on the next point when the Knights illegally hit the antenna at one end above the net with the ball.
The Hematites never trailed in Game 3, though the score was tied five times in the early going. Spencer then served six straight points as Ishpeming became the aggressors in winning 25-17.
"In the first game, we just couldn't get our rhythm. Only one of our girls had three serves in a sequence," Rautiola said. "By the third set, the girls really found their power."
In the latter part of Game 3, IHS put Norway on its heels, mixing in hard smashes with little drops over the net and even a few quick hits where an Ishpeming player would knock the ball over instead of making a set for a potential slam.
Norway won the JV match, 25-16, 25-20.
Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246.