PREP VOLLEYBALL: Panthers end RRC’s playoff runMARSHALL — Using late runs to win three of the four sets Thursday night, the well-balanced Tracy-Milroy-Balaton Panthers claimed a hard-fought 25-21, 25-18, 24-26, 25-19 victory over the Red Rock Central Falcons in the Section 3A South high school volleyball championship match at Southwest Minnesota State University’s R/A Facility.
By: Lucas Knutson, Worthington Daily Globe
MARSHALL — Using late runs to win three of the four sets Thursday night, the well-balanced Tracy-Milroy-Balaton Panthers claimed a hard-fought 25-21, 25-18, 24-26, 25-19 victory over the Red Rock Central Falcons in the Section 3A South high school volleyball championship match at Southwest Minnesota State University’s R/A Facility.
The third-seeded Panthers, who are now 16-15 overall, advance to the section title match Saturday night when they will take on the North champion Minneota Vikings (25-6). First serve is scheduled for 7 p.m. at SMSU in Marshall.
RRC, which was seeded fifth and rallied to knock off top-seeded Southwest Christian in five sets on Tuesday, finishes a fine season with a record of 19-9.
“RRC is a very good team and deserves a lot of credit,” T-M-B head coach Katie Gervais said after the match. “They kept the ball in play really well and kept coming at us with a diversified attack. That’s a very good number-five seed, as they made us work hard to earn this win.”
All four games were closely-contested from start to finish, but T-M-B was able to score a few more key points at the end of the first, second and fourth sets to prevail in exciting fashion.
“We had a great tournament run to cap a fun and successful season,” RRC head coach Sara Arfsten said. “We battled well and had opportunities, but we couldn’t get the momentum and may have ran out of gas a little bit. Hats off to T-M-B for playing tremendous team defense and having several girls contribute with lots of nice plays.”
RRC jumped out to a quick 6-2 lead in the first set, using a kill and an ace serve from Chloe Arfsten — along with kills from sisters Katie Larsen and Klarissa Larsen — to take an early advantage.
A 4-0 run by T-M-B, which included a left-side kill by Ashley Daniels (14 kills, 13 digs) and an ace serve from Sammie Gervais, evened the score at six.
The Falcons went up 10-7 thanks to a thundering middle kill by Klarissa Larsen, but the Panthers countered with a 7-2 burst to gain a 14-12 lead. A kill by Kelli Soupir (16 digs), an ace block and a middle kill by Jenna Stoneberg (13 kills) and a service ace fired by Tiffani Karbo triggered T-M-B in that sequence.
RRC stayed close and tied the score at 20, riding a tip from Kendra Hagert (seven kills) and four plays at the net by Klarissa Larsen — two kills, a tip and an ace block — to pull even.
T-M-B’s Kate Johnston (12 kills, six blocks) answered with an ace serve, and the Panthers closed on a 5-1 spurt to seal a 25-21 opening win. Karbo (44 set assists) found an open area with a well-placed tip, and Daniels rifled an ace serve for point number 25.
“This was not our best match overall, but we did many good things and displayed nice balance,” Katie Gervais said. “We couldn’t find our tempo at times, but we continued to play hard and ended up finishing quite well in three of the four games.”
It was the Panthers who grabbed a quick 6-2 lead in the second set, with Gervais’ tip, Johnston’s ace block, Daniels’ kill and Karbo’s ace block the highlight plays for T-M-B early on.
T-M-B maintained a slight cushion during the remaining action, but RRC stayed within striking distance. Hagert and Katie Larsen (14 digs, seven kills, two blocks) each smacked a kill, while Klarissa Larsen mixed in a tip to make it 13-12 midway through.
Back-to-back points by Stoneberg — on a kill and a tip in the middle — put T-M-B up 16-13, and the Panthers surged to a 21-15 lead after kills from Soupir, Johnston and Daniels.
RRC’s Alison Kircher (37 set assists, 13 digs) delivered a timely tip to make it 22-16, but Daniels knocked down a pair of powerful kills to help T-M-B secure a 25-18 victory — giving the Panthers a commanding 2-0 lead in the match.
RRC held the upper hand for most of the third set. Klarissa Larsen (17 kills, four blocks) pounded two kills early, and Hagert scored twice in a row on a kill and an ace block to spark the Falcons on a 4-0 run that made it 9-5 RRC.
The Falcons later led 14-9 behind a tip from Cassandra Erickson and a left-side kill off the block by Arfsten (13 digs, nine kills). Klarissa Larsen pounded a kill in the middle and added an ace block, as RRC kept a five-point margin at 17-12.
T-M-B responded with a 5-0 burst to pull even, with a kill by Daniels, an ace serve by Johnston and an ace block by Stoneberg keying the Panthers in that span.
The teams traded points the rest of the way, and T-M-B took a 24-22 lead after Johnston scored on a kill and an ace block. But a tip by Klarissa Larsen and an ace serve by Arfsten tied it up, and the Falcons won 26-24 following a T-M-B net violation and a kill on the left side by Katie Larsen — forcing a fourth game to be played.
“That was a big one to win,” Sara Arfsten said. “Our girls showed great character, and we’re very proud of all of their efforts. This really was a neat experience for our girls to play here on the big stage, as it’s something that we will always remember.”
RRC looked to prolong the match to a fifth set, going back-and-forth with T-M-B throughout Game 4. There were a total of 13 ties, with the final one coming with the scoreboard showing 18 points for each team after 36 sideouts.
The Panthers, though, were able finish on a 7-1 run to clinch a 25-19 victory. A key play at the net by Daniels preceded an ace serve from Gervais, and ace blocks from Johnston and Karbo helped preserve the four-set win for T-M-B.
Soupir was 20-for-20 serving for the Panthers, while Johnston was 24-for-24 with three aces. Daniels (12-for-12, one ace) and Gervais (15-for-17, two aces) were T-M-B’s other leading servers.
Arfsten was 17-for-19 serving with a trio of aces for RRC, while Kircher was a perfect 18-for-18. Brooke Rasmussen was 12-for-12 and also came up with a team-high 23 digs from her libero position.