In the moments following the Class AA volleyball state title match, one word seemed to be on the lips of every member of the victorious Harrisburg Tigers.
Harrisburg celebrated its second straight Class AA state title with a 3-1 win over Rapid City Stevens 25-17, 21-25, 25-23, 25-15 Saturday night.
"It feels surreal, we’ve dream't of it since last season, we got one in (Class) AA under our belt and we knew these girls had it in them," Harrisburg coach Ronette Costain said. "They set a goal last summer that this is what they wanted, they wanted to prove that they could do it too."
To get to the title match Harrisburg faced Sioux Falls O'Gorman and won 3-1 (25-15, 25-18, 18-25, 25-23) and took down Watertown in five sets (25-11, 24-26, 25-11, 23-25, 15-12).
Harrisburg outside hitter Madison Wassink, who recorded 23 kills in the match, was on last year's state title team and will end her career with two state championships.
"It's so unreal to imagine that a volleyball team like this could go out and play their hearts out and the state championship and that’s exactly what we did ... after winning last year we just hoped; we wanted to come out and do it again, and we did it," Wassink said. "One word I would use to describe it is surreal, right now I haven’t been able to process that we just won the state championship but it’s such a great feeling and it’s awesome."
Wassink has committed to play at Minnesota State-Moorhead next season.
It was a tournament where both teams fought hard to win the matches they needed to get to that point, but in the end, it was the Tigers who had just a little bit more grit.
For the Raiders, coach Kylie Voorhees made a promise to the parents of players at the start of the season that Stevens would be in the state title game.
Although she wanted a different result, she said she was proud of the effort her team had put in.
"At the player-parent meeting I said ‘we will be in the state championship match,’ and that was my goal for this season, obviously I would have loved for it to be a different outcome, but it happens," she said. "I’m very proud of them, we fought hard all season long, we had a really long season. We put up some really key wins at really key times, we played really hard these last three days and today it just didn’t play in our favor."
Stevens advanced to the championship match with a 3-1 quarterfinal win over Huron (13-25, 25-17, 25-21, 25-23) and a 3-2 semifinal win over Sioux Falls Washington (26-24, 22-25, 16-25, 25-19, 16-14).
In addition to Wassink's 23 kills, Avery Thorson had 41 assists while Rachel Nelson had 13 digs. Wassink also had four aces.
Kyah Watson led the Raiders in kills with 15 while Elizabeth Schaefer and Phebie Rossi had 10. Marlee Schneider had 39 assists and two aces. Laura Petik had 17 digs while Schaefer had 16.
The Tigers were stretched in the state tournament by opponents in ways that hadn't been all season, but Costain said keeping her player's minds off volleyball was key going into the highly anticipated matchup with Stevens.
"Sometimes teams want it so badly that they make a lot of unforced errors, and that’s exactly what we kept doing," she said. "We found activities to keep the kids busy, we didn’t sit here at the gym the whole time. We made sure we got their mind off volleyball and focused on themselves and their friendships and what got them here. That seemed to be the key to our success."
Harrisburg had no trouble with Stevens in the first set, jumping out to a 11-6 lead that stretched into a 21-12 lead before Harrisburg finished off the set.
In the second set, Stevens made it clear it would not go quietly. It led by as much as 17-8 before a Harrisburg run made it 21-17. The Raiders regrouped and closed out the set.
A strength for Stevens all season has been its ability to serve its opponents out of their offenses, which Voorhees said the Raiders did.
She also said it didn't seem to matter.
"Our serve game was really on, we took them out of their offense but even out of system they produced," she said. "Our block game was really, really far off. We weren’t getting touches on the ball like we typically do, we weren’t getting as many blocks as we typically do. I think that really killed us."
The two teams didn't meet in the regular season, but Costain only needed to see two games in the state tournament to know where the Raiders' strength was.
"We planned for it, we watched them play two games before this and they kept hitting it right behind the 10-foot line, so we decided that we were going to cover that line and they weren’t going to get points off us," she said. "They got a few but they weren’t able to get two or three in a row, and that was the key."
The third set was the most competitive, as neither team jumped out to more than a one or two point lead before Harrisburg made it 24-21. Stevens would score two points before Harrisburg closed out the set.
At the start of the second set it became clear that the Tigers could taste the championship. Quickly Harrisburg jumped out to a 10-3 lead, but Stevens put together a run to cut the lead to 12-8 and then 16-11.
That’s as close as Stevens would get.
Harrisburg went on a 5-3 lead to make it 21-14, and then closed out the final set, returning home with a state title.
"It sounds cocky if you say it early in the season but yeah, I did have high hopes for these guys," Costain said. "Anything less I think would have been a disappointment."
Stevens finishes the season 30-7 while Harrisburg finishes 23-1.