In an exciting Friday night sports event, the Elk River volleyball team lost to North Branch 3-1, ending their season. The No. 3 seeded Elks had beaten the Vikings 3-0 earlier in the season.
Coach Pam Gothe watched as Jess Grill (2), Rachel Anderson (red) and Liz Carle (20) followed the flight of the ball in game two with the Elks looking concerned as they fell behind two games to none. (Photo by Bruce Strand)
by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
Elk River volleyball was poised for a deep run into the sectionals this year but the Elks made an early exit with a 3-1 upset loss to North Branch.
It was an exciting Friday night sports event, with boisterous student galleries cheering for each side. The highlight was a spectacular burst of serving by Jordan Moening that almost turned the match around for the home team Elks.
But the Vikings prevailed 25-18, 25-17, 19-25, 25-23, avenging en earlier 3-0 loss to the Elks.
"The kids really appreciated the fan support," said Elk coach Pam Gothe. "We hoped to go a lot farther but this is where it ended. We came out a little flat and they (North Branch) defended well and picked apart our defense with all that tipping."
Moening served 18-for-20 with eight aces for the Elks and brought them from a 12-4 deficit to a 14-12 lead with a string of 10 straight points in game four. Jess Grill slammed down the last 15 kills of her career, giving her a final total of 720.
North Branch's Tayler Fertig (9) spikes over the block by Jayde Krauth (230 and Kara Ziemer (7). (Photo by Bruce Strand)
The Elks, who finished 15-12, ending a string of six losing seasons, were seeded No. 3 in the sectional and got a first-round bye and a home game against a team they beat 25-19, 25-23, 25-18 on Oct. 4. A win would have sent them to the Section 7AAA semifinals at Duluth East.
North Branch, now 18-10 with 10 wins in their last 11 matches, played 100 percent better in the rematch. Taylor Fertig and Jessica Lemmerman had 12 kills each and Jessica Merchant had eight, those figures including a large number of tips.
"We had a middle hitter who was sick the first time, who is a foundational kind of player for us," said coach Kari Francis, "and we have been pretty good volleyball late in the season."
The Vikings could do no wrong in the first two games, when every spike and tip seemed perfectly-aimed, and their serving was forceful, putting the Elks back on their heels and looking jittery.
"They were finding holes with their tips, and we tipped a lot and weren't finding any," said Gothe. "We are more used to teams taking swings at us."
Jordan Moening served for 10 straight points in game four, including five aces, giving the Elks a 14-12 lead. She had eight aces in all. (Photo by Bruce Strand)
The Elks finally got some offense going in game three and were up 12-9 despite missing four serves, Down the stretch Grill plunked down to big spikes and a tip, and Moening aced the 25th point.
That momentum fizzled as the Vikings zoomed ahead 12-4 in the fourth game.
The Elks needed somebody to step up and do something big. Moening was that person.
The 5-foot-7 junior outside hitter who's team's most daring and aggressive jump-server put 11 straight serves over the net. Five of them went for aces and the Vikings returned several others weakly. The Elks were up 14-12 and their fans on their feet roaring their approval by the time her streak ended with a spike that hit the antennae.
"I got the first three and I thought, 'Yahhhh!' And I looked at my mom and she was like, 'Yahhhhh!' " said Moening, who's had streaks before but none this long.
The Elks edged away for a 23-19 lead, before a crucial call went against them. Megan Schroeder served a bullet to the back line that looked like it could be called either way. It was ruled over the line, probably by an inch. Instead of a 24-19 lead it was 23-20.
That's when North Branch got some clutch serving of its own as senior libero Morgan Leadens went to the stripe and never left. She aced points 23 and 24 for the lead as the Elks regressed into tentative play. The match ended with a spiking error by Moening.
"I thought we had that game," said Moening, asked how the team felt after she gave them the lead, "but North Branch is a good serving team, too, and were pretty consistent."
Jayde Krauth added 10 kills and Moening nine for the Elks. Janel Finkbeiner made 25 assists and Erin Crotty 15. Rachel Anderson made 24 digs and Liz Carle 11.
I'm very proud of these girls," said Gothe. "They had a good year and what a great bunch of people to work with."
It was the last match for Grill, Carle, Schroeder and Crotty.