While there are no foregone conclusions in sports, the Faith volleyball team nonetheless faced a daunting task in Thursday’s opening session of the Class B State Volleyball Tournament.
Across the net from the Longhorns stood a 32-1 top-seeded Northwestern squad, And oh, by the way, the Wildcats just happen to be the defending state champions as well.
The Longhorns did play well but only in stretches, as the Longhorns fell to a talented Northwestern Wildcat squad in straight sets 25-13, 25-17 and 25-14 at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center’s Barnett Arena.
“We knew that we didn’t have to play perfectly, but we knew we had to play darn good to beat this team. Northwestern is solid all the way around. They do a lot of things right,” Faith coach Mandy Lemmel said. “The speed of the game they play is just something we don’t see in our region. Obviously, losing wasn’t our goal coming in, but I think playing a team of that caliber will only help us improve so I’m excited to see what the girls will do now.”
With the win, Northwestern (33-1) moves on to Friday’s semifinals and a 6 p.m. matchup with Herreid/Selby (30-2). Faith (21-12) drops into the consolation bracket and will face Hanson (27-3) in a noon contest.
The defending champions jumped out quickly, notching the first three points of the opening set and gradually extending the margin to 9-4 behind a couple of kills each by juniors Caitlyn Fischbach (a game-high 14 kills in the match) and Riley Grandpre (eight kills).
Senior Evy Peterson took charge with three consecutive kills (10 in the match) as the Wildcats took control of the set.
“Once we get fired up with each other and get excited, we just kind of go with it and start clicking together, and for a time it worked out well for me,” Peterson said. “That’s what’s great about our team. We have so many players who contribute a great deal to the team so even if one person is off the other players can step in for us.”
Capitalizing on a more aggressive approach in their service, Faith grabbed the early lead in the second set as a big hit by freshman Aiyana Byrd, a service ace by another freshman, Ariah Engel, and an ensuing strong service game by Jayden Shoemaker had the Lady Longhorns up 7-4.
“We did absolutely begin to hit more aggressively,” Coach Lemmel said. “I told the girls we have nothing to lose. We aren’t going to get it done by playing soft. You have to go out there and take it too them, and if you make a mistake busting it, that’s just fine. We are not just going to roll over.”
Northwestern’s stellar all around play slowly swung the tide as the Wildcats separated to a 23-13 advantage. A late Faith surge fueled by a series of Northwestern attack errors narrowed the margin to 23-17 before spikes by Peterson and sophomore Hailey Boekelheide closed out the set.
“I liked that our hitters were aggressive today,” Northwestern coach Nora Groft pointed out. “I know we made a lot of errors, but in game one we wanted to get after it. Usually in a first round match it’s more about who we are and how we play and it doesn’t really matter who is on the other side of the net. We knew Faith had been playing very well at the end of the season, so I thought it was a good opportunity for us to shake the cobwebs off and play some volleyball.”
In the third set, Faith came out of the gate strongly highlighted by a Byrd block and a dink winner by junior middle hitter Mikenzy Miller as the two teams traded points to 5-5.
“Our girls learn quickly. We told the girls to go after them point after point and not let them go on long runs and not allow ourselves to get defeated by their constant aggressive offense,” Coach Lemmel said. “They got away a few times here and there, but all in all, I felt we got better for the most part as the match progressed.”
Unfortunately for Faith the quick start wouldn’t be enough to overcome an ineffective offense that was only able to muster 18 kills in the match, a middling amount compared to the 49 winners slammed home by a well balanced Northwestern attack. Fischbach added five kills in the third set and freshman Sydney Schell contributed three more before Peterson slammed home the match winner. Wildcat sophomore setter Madalyn Groft, tallied 35 assists while leading the team in digs (15).
“We had our setter running all over the floor and that’s not good enough. It limits your offense and allows their defense time to set up so,” Lemmel said. “Nonetheless, I’m so proud of these girls. We had a great tournament run. They are a solid, solid, group and they always continue to improve.”
Miller led the Faith attack will nine kills, while Shoemaker added four and Byrd contributed three. Sophomore setter Sydnie Schauer recorded 16 set assists.
For the defending champions, game one of a possible repeat title is on the books.
“The first game is always a nervous time. You never know what the competition is going to be like,” said senior libero Peyton Groft, who contributed 10 digs as well as producing a plethora of excellent passes to setter (and sister Madalyn). “We knew they would be nervous, too, and that teams always play better in the second set, so we made sure that we stayed determined and played our game.”
HERREID/SELBY AREA 3, HANSON 1: Led by a trio of hitters, Herreid/Selby Area scored a four set win over Hanson in the Class B tournament on Thursday.
The Wolverines took the first set 25-14, before the Beaverettes stormed back to take the second set 25-18.
Herreid/Selby Area took back the momentum with a 25-21 third set, and closed out he match with a 25-17 win in the fourth.
Charlie Tisdall led Herreid/Selby Area with 24 kills and 20 digs, Madelyn Schumacher chipped in with 11 kills and Rachel Fielder added 10.
Cassie Anderson led the team with 39 assists.
Hanson was led by Heather Kayser, who had 38 assists, while Jada Campbell finished with 13 kills.
The Wolverines will play Northwesters in the championship semifinals today at 6 p.m., and Hanson will play Faith in the consolation semis at noon.
WARNER 3, BURKE/SOUTH CENTRAL 0: Warner cruised to a win over Burke/South Central in the quarterfinal round of the tournament.
The Monarchs advanced to the next round with a 25-13, 25-7 and 25-19 win.
Morgan Rozell paced Warner with 36 assists, Laurie Rogers had 13 kills and Laura Ochsner finished with 20 digs.
The Cougars were led by Bobbi Jo Wischmann’s 14 assists, followed by eight kills from Taylee Indahl.
Warner will play Chester Area/Deubrook Area today at 7:45 p.m., while Burke/South Central takes on Chester Area/Deubrook Area at 1:45 p.m.
CHESTER AREA 3, DEUBROOK 0: Chester Area closed out the opening day of the Class B tournament with a sweet of Deubrook Area.
The Flyers kicked off the match with a 25-21 victory, took the second set 25-18 and closed out the match with a 25-17 third set.
Dakota Alfson led Chester Area with 16 kills, Hailey Ewoldt had 35 assists and Hanna Reiff finished with 22 digs.
Cortney Bauman paced the Dolphins with 28 digs, while Shaylee DeBeer finished with 11 kills and 13 assists.
Journal staff writer Aaron Finnell contributed to this report.