EBEN - Superior Central's volleyball players even had their coach fooled for a little while.
But Kris Bray discovered how much her Cougars cared after Monday's opening match in the MHSAA Class D district tournament held in their home gym.
"They've been really calm, and at first I thought they just didn't care that much about the tournament," Bray said about the four-game victory over Rapid River.
Superior Central junior Brooke Pasanen serves during the MHSAA Class D district championship match held at the Cougars’ gym on Thursday evening. SC won in three sets to advance to Tuesday’s regional semifinals in Kingsford. (Journal photo by Steve Brownlee)
"Then after Monday, I saw how much they really wanted it. But they kept their emotions in check, and stayed calm and focused."
That demeanor carried over into Thursday's district championship against nearby rival Munising, with the Cougars winning in methodical fashion, 25-20, 25-11, 25-18.
With just three seniors on its roster, SC trailed only one time past the first few points of any game to win its first district title in the eight-year history of the program.
"We didn't win a match the first year back in (the winter of) 2005, then we were 4-8 in 2006 and we've had all winning seasons since then," Bray said, adding that the Cougars had been to the district finals several times without winning.
SC advances to the Class D regional tournament in Kingsford and will play Bark River-Harris or North Dickinson at 6 p.m. EST on Tuesday. The BR-Harris district champion won't be crowned until Saturday.
This year, the Cougars finished 11-5 overall in dual matches during the regular season and 11-3 in the Central Upper Peninsula Conference, good for a three-way share of the league title with Rapid River and BR-Harris.
"It's just been in the last few matches, in these past two weeks, that we've become really consistent," Bray said. "We're moving and getting into a good flow. We're transitioning really well.
"It's something that just started clicking with the Mid Peninsula match."
The Cougars looked like a well-oiled machine Thursday, setting up for kill attempts virtually every time they were able to keep a hit from Munising within the boundaries on their side of the court.
With senior Lindsey Richmond making most of the sets, five SC players had multiple kills, led by junior Vanessa Freberg with eight and senior Kelsey Coleman and junior Mikayla Barrows with seven apiece.
"We try to set up every single possession for a kill," Richmond said. "We were being aggressive, moving our feet, especially in the last two games."
"We've been working on making sure we get a hit every time the ball's on our side of the net," she said. "I was getting good passes."
While SC has plenty of experience with a number of juniors dominating its starting lineup, Munising had to nearly start over this year after the dominating season it had in 2011.
"We have a freshman, Darby Coyne, who's starting for us; that just goes to show how young a team we have," said Mustangs coach Myra Lloyd. "Superior Central has a good group, and they keep to their own tempo.
"I think our girls did really well. They didn't let up and didn't give up."
Coyne finished with a match-high 16 digs as junior teammate Megan Watson added 14.
Though she's the team setter, senior Jenna Hach led Munising with three kills.
The Mustangs briefly held the lead at 10-9 and 11-10 and had the score tied at 13-13 before SC raced to the Game 1 victory that ended when Freberg served a sinking liner that eluded a dig by Munising's back row.
Junior Brooke Pasanen ended Game 2 with back-to-back service aces, just two of the match-high 11 she had, while an attempted big hit from midcourt by Munising hit into the net to end the match.
Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246.