When his tan military boots and green camouflauge Air Force uniform appeared before her on the gymnasium floor Tuesday night at Magic City Campus, Minot High junior Malena Lennon stood perfectly still for just a moment.
She fought the urge to "collapse onto the ground and cry," she said.
Never in her wildest dreams did she expect to see her father, Senior Master Sgt. Shawn Lennon, home from a yearlong deployment to Kuwait. Not on the night of the Majettes' final home volleyball match of the season - what turned out to be a 25-23, 25-22, 25-20 win over West Region foe Williston.
Minot High junior outside hitter Malena Lennon hugs her father, Senior Master Sgt. Shawn Lennon, who surprised her before the Majettes’ 3-0 win over Williston on Tuesday at Magic City Campus. The elder Lennon returned from a yearlong deployment in Kuwait.
"The first thing I thought was, 'This only happens on TV,' because I see it on all the commercials and movies," Malena Lennon said. "I never thought that would happen to me."
The Majettes (14-19 overall, 5-10 region) never trailed in the opening set, but were tied with the Coyotes (8-21, 4-11) at 22 and 23. Following a Williston attack error that gave MHS a 24-23 lead, junior middle hitter Melora Haagenson recorded a kill to close out the set.
MHS won 12 of the final 18 points in the second frame to fight back from a 13-16 deficit. Similarly, the Majettes reeled off six of the last eight points - four on kills by junior outside hitter Kaitlyn Stenberg - in the third set to clinch the match.
The Majettes performed markedly better than on Sept. 24, when they rallied from a two-set hole to beat Williston 3-2, senior setter Ashley Gathman said.
"I think we played more together this time," said Gathman, who posted 39 assists to surpass 1,000 for her career. "We've improved a lot over the season. We haven't played them for over a month. It showed tonight. We did everything right."
Gathman added 12 digs for a double-double and seniors Trista Jackson and Jayden Moum had 16 and 10, respectively.
Stenberg led the Majettes with 16 kills, while junior Brooke Suko (11) and senior Jerica Hanson (10) also finished in double figures.
"She worked so hard for us tonight and I love it," Gathman said of Stenberg. "She blew it out of the water. It was crazy."
MHS coach Ellen Jebens said it best: "She was on fire tonight."
But the night - actually the whole day - belonged to the Lennon family.
Shawn Lennon arrived in the morning and surprised his four other children -Ashlie, 23; Keristen, 22; Miya, 13; Jordin, 10 - earlier in the day.
Lennon's wife, Gloria Lennon, contacted Jebens last week with the idea to greet Malena.
During a pregame ceremony for the last match of the season, each player brought a flower to their parents, while the seniors received a bouquet for Senior Night.
Malena planned to present her mother with her yellow rose. Her plans quickly changed when she spotted the green camouflauge and the face she'd been missing for a year.
"It was great," Shawn Lennon said. "It was more or less overwhelming, just the sheer emotions of seeing her and seeing the look on her face of surprise."
Added Gloria Lennon, with a smile a mile wide: "It's just nice to have our family back together again."
Ryan Holmgren covers high school sports and general assignments. Follow him on Twitter @ryanholmgren.