KINGSFORD - Another state quarterfinal awaits the Forest Park Lady Trojans volleyball team.
With a 25-13, 25-15, 25-16 victory over Superior Central Thursday evening at Kingsford High School, the Lady Trojans collected a third straight MHSAA Class D regional title.
"We've been waiting for this for a while," said junior Lexi Gussert, who pounded a match-best 22 kills against the Cougars. "We're happy to keep the tradition of success alive."
Superior Central’s Kelsey Coleman (11) battles at the net with Forest Park’s Lexi Gussert (9) and Maria Stankewicz (6) in Thursday’s MHSAA Class D volleyball regional final at Kingsford High School. (Iron Mountain Daily News photo by Theresa Peterson)
The Trojans (31-3-3) will face Onaway (47-4-3), a three-set winner over Rudyard, in a quarterfinal to be played Tuesday at Petoskey at 7 p.m.
Wrapping up the regional trophy on Thursday was more of a exercise than a challenge for the Lady Trojans. Even though Superior Central brought its best effort, it wasn't enough to slow down Gussert and the Lady Trojans.
"They just kept us so off balance that we really couldn't get in our flow to set it up and hit," Cougars coach Kris Bray said. "I thought we played pretty tough. We didn't get a lot of points, but my girls played up a notch and that's all I can ask of them, so I'm really proud of them."
Brooke Pasanen's five kills led the Cougars. Kelsey Coleman added four more, and Vanessa Freberg led the team with nine digs. The Cougars were making their first-ever regional final appearance. In fact, the young Superior Central program never won a tournament game ahead of this year's playoff run.
"It was absolutely huge," Bray said of her team's success. "I'm very proud of them, and with only losing two seniors, I am excited for the future. We're going to be back here."
While Forest Park had no problem pulling away in the first two sets, the Cougars made the Lady Trojans sweat a little more in the final set. After first rallying from a 9-2 hole to start the set, the Cougars grabbed a lead at 16-15 thanks to a block by Coleman.
But Forest Park, with Gina Graff at the serving line, stopped Superior Central right there, closing the match on a 9-0 run. Graff served up two of her three aces during the push, while Gussert ended it with three tips and a slam.
"It feels good to win the region in my senior year," Graff said. "It's all I could ask for from this team. Hopefully we bring our best downstate. I hope we can make it as far as last year or even farther, but we have to take it a game at a time."
While Gussert leads most of the stat lines for the Trojans this season, the junior said this year's success is because of contributions from everyone on the floor.
"We all love this game," she said. "When we're out there having a good time and communicating, that's when we're playing our best."