By PAT KRAUSE
For The Daily News
EWEN - The Crystal Falls Forest Park Lady Trojans brought their A game to Ewen and toppled Bessemer 25-13, 25-9, 25-12 to claim the MHSAA Class D District 127 title on Thursday night.
Jason Juno/Daily Globe (Ironwood) Photos
Forest Park players erupt in celebration after winning the MHSAA Class D District 127 final Thursday evening.
Forest Park’s Maria Stankewicz sets for Lexi Gussert.
The Speedgirls were never able to take the lead even once in any of the three sets and though Bessemer gave 100 percent effort and fought back against Forest Park, the match was over in 52 minutes.
"Bessemer has some good players and they are a good, scrappy, hustling team," Lady Trojans coach Kim Bjork said. "Our girls were just too much for them. We're peaking at the right time and getting better each game. We're really very young. We had three sophomores start on the floor tonight. Each match they get more experience and get better."
Bessemer coach Shelly Mettler was impressed by Forest Park.
"We never gave up and kept fighting, but that's an all-around good team with very few weaknesses," Mettler said. "I'd be surprised if they don't make it to the quarterfinals or semifinals. We wish them the best, because they'll probably represent the U.P."
The Lady Trojans always seem to come out of the gates very quickly and Thursday was no exception. Libby Shamion bounced a kill off a Bessemer defender's hand to start the first set, Kendra Campbell aced the Speedgirls and Bessemer returned a shot wide as Forest Park went up 3-0.
Lexi Gussert got rolling and boomed three kills down the middle. Maria Stankewicz's service ace made it 7-2.
But the Speedgirls responded when Nicole Lekies served a line drive ace and Brenna Bogaczyk took on Lexi Gussert at the net. Gussert is generally considered the best female athlete in the U.P. and will be attending Michigan State University on a basketball scholarship next fall. With Forest Park ahead 13-9, Gussert skied for a kill, but Bogaczyk went up and blocked Gussert's shot down for a point. Bogaczyk would block Gussert's hits four more times in the match.
"She (Gussert) is definitely the best I've played against," Bogaczyk said. "She's an awesome opponent, but I'm proud of how we blocked her and challenged her. We all came together and played hard. It's hard to part with these girls."
But Gussert came back with a variety of shots and had a total of six kills and five aces in the first set alone. By the end of the match, Gussert notched 14 kills and eight aces.
The district tournament could also have been called "The Lexi Gussert Road Show."
"She's a one-woman wrecking crew," Mettler said. "Very few teams can stop her. She has a very good supporting cast and the rest of the team feeds off her leadership and energy. And she just exudes confidence."
Bjork put it very simply.
"You can't ask for a better player than Lexi," she said.
In game two, Bessemer narrowed Forest Park's lead to 11-7 when Jenika Laukka hit a bullet-like serve for an ace. But the Lady Trojans reeled off nine straight points, highlighted by Shamion's two kills down the sideline.
Despite two blocks by Bogaczyk, Gussert slammed three straight kills to win the second set 25-9.
In the final game, Forest Park steadily built a 20-6 lead and began to liberally substitute. Speedgirl Valerie Rowe served four straight points, including an ace and Sarah Trudgeon's nice tip made it 21-11, but it was too little, too late for Bessemer.
Trudgeon and Bogaczyk led Bessemer with two kills and Bogaczyk tallied seven blocks. Rowe had two service aces.
Libby Shamion added six kills and five aces for Forest Park. Kendra Campbell had six aces, and Maria Stankewicz totaled 23 assists.
"Our girls came ready to play," Bjork said. "I like what I'm seeing from our team. They are elevating their level of play with each match.
The Lady Trojans (28-1-5) advance to regional play at Negaunee, facing Lake Linden-Hubbell Tuesday. Forest Park faced Lake Linden early in the season at the Forest Park Invitational, coming out on top in two close sets.
"They have a good team and we are looking forward to the challenge," Bkork said.
Maria Stankewicz - 1 kill, 1 ace, 1 dig, 23 assists; Michaela Steiro - 1 kill; Kendra Campbell - 2 kills, 6 aces, 1 assist; Libby Shamion - 6 kills, 5 aces, 2 digs; Kelsi Hendrickson - 2 aces, 1 assist; Susie Toivonen - 1 kill, 1 ace; Lexi Gussert - 14 kills, 1 ace, 3 blocks; Annie Taylor - 1 kill; Adel Isaacson - 1 kill, 2 aces; Journee Taylor - 1 kill; Catherine Bloomburg - 1 ace.