Clock strikes midnight on Cinderella Packers in state loss
West Fargo players and coaches admit even they were hesitant to think they could make a run to the semifinals of the Class A state volleyball tournament.
But with that unexpected goal out of the way, aspirations are likely to be set much higher in the coming years.
The Packers’ surprise late-season surge ended one win shy of the state championship match, as Mandan used late runs in the third and fourth sets to pull away for a 25-18, 18-25, 25-22, 25-17 win over West Fargo Friday in the Minot State Dome.
Tied at a set apiece, things appeared to be turning the Packers’ way in a topsy-turvy third set, when they took a 21-19 lead on a Halle Erickson ace.
But following a timeout, the Braves took complete control that featured 11 ties and six lead changes. Following a kill by Emily Tweten, Mandan took the lead back on consecutive errors by West Fargo.
The lead wouldn’t change hands again the rest of the match, as Mandan closed the third set on a 6-1 run, then opened the fourth with a surge of 6-2.
The Braves, who finished with a 58-43 edge in kills, continuously kept the Packers off balance with their size, as 5-foot-11 middle hitters Megan Zander and Lakyn Darras successfully neutralized the West Fargo net attack.
“They’re super smart and they just kind of play a different game than what we’re used to,” Packer Coach Kelsey Gibbons said of the Mandan defense. “They’re extremely athletic and big and that’s something we’re not used to seeing consistently. That just kind of got us on our heels.”
The Packers did have one last run in them, closing the fourth-set gap to 16-15. But a kill by Olivia Moe kick-started another Braves’ scoring run, this one 9-2, that punched their ticket to Saturday’s title game.
Following a seven-kill, two-block performance in the fifth set of a win over Jamestown, Mariah Schatz again led the Packer attack with 14 kills. Erickson and Katelyn Tveito led the distribution, finishing with 20 and 16 assists respectively.
With just one senior starter and a record hovering around .500 at the midway point of the season, Gibbons said there was plenty to celebrate following Friday’s loss, despite seeing the Cinderella run wrap up one night earlier than she was hoping.
“I don’t think our team should hang their head on anything,” she said. “I don’t think a lot of people thought that we would have gotten to the tournament, let alone get to the semis. It’s something that our kids should be extremely proud of.”
Sophomore hitter Erin Binstock, one of five key contributing sophomores, believes the best is yet to come, giving an emphatic answer when asked if this group could one day win a state championship.
“Yes,” she said. “”I think we have the skillset and the teamwork to win a championship in the future. We know that we can make it this far again and probably further.”
Before turning their attention to next year, the Packers face Fargo Davies in the third-place game at approximately 3 p.m. tomorrow.