NEGAUNEE - While fans appreciate the physical plays made by high school volleyball players, coaches know it's the mental game that is often the difference between winning and losing.
That seemed to be the difference in Gwinn's sweep of three close games at Negaunee's Lakeview Memorial Gymnasium on Thursday evening.
The Modeltowners, who scored a 25-20, 25-22, 25-22 victory, weren't always perfect, but stuck it out to win every game.
Negaunee’s Ashley Veale goes for the kill as Gwinn’s Chelsea Moton (4) and Katie Aho (6) try to block her during first volleyball game at Negaunee High School Thursday. (Journal photo by Matt Keiser)
"We had some up-and-down moments because of some communication errors and not moving our feet," GHS coach Stephanie Bahrman said.
"But we played as a team and we did block well. The girls took a deep breath and they managed to pull it together. That's because they work well together as a team."
Several of those players agreed.
"In warm-ups we had a hard time getting going, but as soon as we stepped on the court, we were fine," senior left hitter Morgan Bruce said. "Against Negaunee, we tend not to think as much and just try to make good plays against them.
"We're a real strong hitting team," she added, listing hitters like juniors Shelby Talsma, Katie Aho and Chelsea Moton.
She should also include herself, as Bruce made five kills and a service ace.
Talsma led all players with eight kills, three aces and a block, while Aho pitched in with seven kills, 13 digs, an ace and a block. They were among a half-dozen Modeltowners with multiple kills Thursday.
Talsma said communication is the key for Gwinn.
"When we play, conversation is a key," she said. "If it comes, then we can get in a flow."
She agreed that some of the Modeltowners lulls occurred when the court chatter ebbed.
"Anyone can get us going again, though Katie (Aho) and Morgan (Bruce) are naturally good talkers," Talsma said.
Despite the close scores, Gwinn held the lead for at least 90 percent of the match, including during every point of the final game.
"We've struggled with keeping momentum going to the finish all season," Negaunee coach Annette Gleason said. "We've got to be able to focus better in the long rallies and not make the small errors that lead to losing a point."
Without any particularly tall players, she said her team is stronger defending than hitting. Because of that, those long points are a key to the Miners' success.
"Mentally, we have to know where we want to put the ball on the floor," Gleason said.
She was also concerned that her team committed 10 serving errors.
Senior middle hitter Ashley Veale led Negaunee with seven kills, 13 digs and two aces, while senior outside hitter Haley Blake had six kills. Junior defensive specialist Leisel Flannery had six aces and sophomore middle hitter Maren Soli added three blocks.
In Game 1, the teams traded the lead until GHS junior setter Kaylee Arnsparger served seven straight points to turn a 7-4 deficit into an 11-7 lead. While she had one ace in that streak, Negaunee twice was called for touching the net and twice more for a lift.
The Modeltowners kept a lead of at least two points for the rest of the game.
Game 2 was similar as Gwinn took the lead for good at 5-4 when Aho got the last hit in as the teams volleyed the ball back and forth at the top of the net several times.
Negaunee tied it late at 20-20 and 21-21, but the visitors scored the final two points.
Gwinn built its biggest lead of the night, 17-8, during the third game before the Miners mounted another comeback as junior defensive specialist Leisel Flannery used a hard, line-drive serve to pull her team to within 20-18, but couldn't get closer.
Negaunee won the JV match, 25-19, 25-18.
Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246.