Though the Northwestern Wildcats and Warner Monarchs have appeared in 21 of the 26 Class B volleyball championship games played since the inauguration of the three class system 1992, the two team had never met in a title game.
Separated by but 13 miles of South Dakota blacktop and thereby located in the same region, the two teams had typically knocked each other out of tournament in regional play.
Thanks to the introduction of the Round of 16 tournament format this year, the two perennial powerhouses (eight state titles for Northwestern and five of Warner) finally matched up across the net in Saturday night’s championship game.
And the contest lived up to expectations with Northwestern repeating as the State Class B champion with a 25-17, 23-25, 25-20, 28-26 victory over Warner at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center.
“Usually we play this match in Aberdeen,” Northwestern coach Nora Groft pointed out. “I’m really happy for both our kids and the Warner kids that we got to play this match in Rapid City, and the rest of the state got to see what Northeast South Dakota has been enjoying for years.”
As expected the first set opened as a back and forth affair with the two teams trading points until with the score tied at 11 all,. A couple of Warner attack errors wrapped around an ace by the Wildcats Miranda Thorson gave Northwestern a 14-11 advantage. Kills by Riley Grandpre and Evy Peterson and a couple more Monarch attack errors expand the margin to 20-13 and Northwestern quickly closed out the set.
“I thought our middles did a nice job of staying with Ellingson and keeping her in check at times,” Coach Groft said. “And then those other little kids up in the front row Addie Sparling and Maddie Groft got hands on balls while blocking kids over 6-feet tall.”
The second set began in similar fashion with Northwestern holding Warner’s explosive hitter Peyton Ellingson in check with blocks and keeping the ball in play as the Wildcats moved out to a seemingly commanding 16-9 lead.
Behind the play of Ellingson and Laurie Rogers, Warner surged back, drew even at 19 on an ace by Sydney Leidholt, and behind two big hits by Ellingson evened the match at a set apiece.
“If this game didn’t live up to people’s expectations I don’t know what does,” Groft added. “The kids from both teams came to play tonight and that was entertaining, intense volleyball and regardless of who won it was a win/win for volleyball in South Dakota.”
The third and fourth sets were contested in similar fashion with as the opposing front lines — Rogers (22 kills in the match) and Ellingson (16) for Warner and Caitlyn Fischbach (19) and Grandpre (18) for Northwestern —battled point for point.
Northwestern won both winning four of the last five points including kills by Fischbach to close out the second set, and then winning a nail-biter of a fourth and final set during which the two two teams were tied on virtually every point from 14 all on. Northwestern had match points at 25-24 and 26-25 before Caitlyn Fischbach finally finished the match with her 19th kill of the day.
“They fight back hard and so we kept talking about keeping our energy up and keep fight back, too,” said a very happy Fischbach. “And so to finish off the match that way was so exciting and happened so quickly I didn’t even know what to feel at first.”
“Caitlyn was amazing,” Coach Groft remarked. “She brought her game to another level tonight and our other hitters like Riley (Grandpre) and Sydney Schell a freshman had a great tournament as well.”
The post-game excitement was understandably more muted on the Warner side of the floor though the satisfaction of once again playing an old rival well — Northwestern won the two regular season meetings between the two teams — provided a measure of satisfaction.
“We had a few unforced errors at critical time in the games and those really hurt us, but Northwestern played very well,” Warner coach Kari Jung said. “It was a fun match for our kids and I was happy to end it here rather than two weeks ago, which would have been the case in the past. And it was nice that we were on opposite sides of the bracket here and were able to play for the title.”
And given that only one team gets to hoist the championship hardware, a fitting end to a season for two teams that know each other well.
“We are actually good friends and at times we go hang out with them,” senior Peyton Groft said. “And it’s amazing that two teams that are just a few miles apart and from the same district made it to this game. Both of our teams have been looking forward to this for so many years and we knew it would be a great game.”
In addition to the attack work of Fischbach and Grandpre, Evy Peterson and Sydney Schell added seven kills apiece while setter Madalyn Groft contributed 47 set assists and sister Peyton had a game high 25 digs for Northwestern (35-1). Morgan Rozell had 46 assists for Warner (30-5) and Laura Ochsner led the Monarchs with 23 digs.
CHESTER 3, HERREID/SELBY AREA 1: Although it lost the first set, Chester won the next three to take the Class B third place game over Herreid/Selby Area on Saturday.
The Wolverines stormed out of the gates to take the first set 25-23. Fortunately for the Flyers it wouldn’t affect them much as they took the next three 25-21, 26-24 and 27-25.
Dakota Alfson and Jadon Wages had big games for Chester, finishing with 21 and 20 kills, respectively.
Hailey Ewoldt finished with 56 assists for the Flyers and Hanna Reiff led the team in digs with 36.
Charlie Tisdale paced Herreid/Selby Area with 31 kills, while Cassie Anderson had 54 assists.
HANSON 3, BURKE/SOUTH CENTRAL 1: Hanson took third place at the Class B state tournament with a win over Burke/South Central.
The Beaverettes kicked off the match with 25-19 and 25-14 wins in the first two sets, but dropped the third by a score of 25-17.
Although the fourth set was close, Hanson closed out the match with a 27-25 win.
Heather Kayser led the way for the Beaverettes with 39 assists, Jada Campbell had 18 kills and Brookelyn Slaba finished with 10.
The Cougars were led by Taylee Indahl, who had 20 kills and Lahna Matucha as she chipped in with 14.
Bobbi Jo Wischmann paced the team with 29 assists.
DEUBROOK 3, FAITH 1: Deubrook closed out the season with a win as it dropped the Longhorns to earn seventh place.
The Dolphins jumped out to a 2-0 lead with a 25-22 win in the first and a 25-14 win in the second. Faith battled back to take the second set 25-21, but couldn’t keep up in the fourth as Deubrook closed it out with a 25-16 victory.
Shaylee DeBeer paced the Dolphins with 14 kills, Ashley Vandermeer added 10 kills and Sarah Urevig finished with 17 assists.
Sydnie Schauer led the way for Faith with 27 assists.