PREP VOLLEYBALL: Eagles fall to KnightsLUVERNE — Time after time Tuesday evening when the fifth-seeded Russell-Tyler-Ruthton Knights needed a key play, sophomore outside hitter Janel Wichern came through as she and her spunky teammates pulled their second upset of the Section 3A South Sub-Section high school volleyball tournament with a thrilling 3-2 victory over top-seeded Southwest Christian in the first of two semifinal matches at the Luverne Elementary School gymnasium.
By: Les Knutson, Worthington Daily Globe
LUVERNE — Time after time Tuesday evening when the fifth-seeded Russell-Tyler-Ruthton Knights needed a key play, sophomore outside hitter Janel Wichern came through as she and her spunky teammates pulled their second upset of the Section 3A South Sub-Section high school volleyball tournament with a thrilling 3-2 victory over top-seeded Southwest Christian in the first of two semifinal matches at the Luverne Elementary School gymnasium.
Game scores were 25-21, 25-21, 19-25, 28-30 and 15-5.
The victory by R-T-R advances the Knights (19-12) to the sub-section championship match Thursday evening at 6 p.m. and a clash with third-seeded Southwestern United (24-8) at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall.
A stellar season, which included going undefeated in the always-tough Red Rock Conference, comes to an end for the Eagles with a sparkling overall record of 20-7-1.
Trailing two games to none, SWC battled back and won games three and four, but R-T-R — powered by the attacking and digging prowess of Wichern — earned a commanding 7-0 lead in Game 5 and prevailed with a 10-point win in the decisive set.
“We like to play five sets,” declared first-year R-T-R head coach TJ Williams after the match. “We’re well-conditioned and the girls are mentally tough. We seem to thrive on winning matches in the fifth game, which I think we’ve done eight out of nine times this season.”
Wichern — who stands just 5-7, but leaps well and swings hard — finished the match with 19 kills and 22 digs.
She hammered five of those kills in Game 5, including three of R-T-R’s first six points in the set.
“Janel wants the ball when things are close,” exclaimed Williams. “She has come up big like that for us many times this season.”
The Eagles opened up early leads of 3-0 and 7-1 in Game 3 and later finished the set with a 6-1 run after R-T-R had rallied to within one point, 19-18, as an ace serve by libero Delanie Jorgensen capped a 17-12 surge by the Knights.
Veteran senior outside hitter Amber Pater sparked SWC’s comeback as she finished the match with 16 kills — with several coming in the third game — and also came up with 21 digs.
Senior middle hitter Morgan Van Hulzen (three blocks) and senior outside hitter Carissa Tinklenberg were also impressive at the net for the Eagles, finishing with 11 and 10 kills, respectively.
Getting the ball to the attackers was senior setter Hannah Van Dyke who put up a match-high 36 assists.
Van Dyke (17-of-17, one ace), Pater (13-of-13) and senior right side hitter Jennifer Schmidt (10-of-10) all had perfect nights serving for the Eagles, while Van Hulzen (16-of-17 with three aces), Tinklenberg (13-of-14 with two aces) and senior libero Shelby Klarenbeek (15-of-16) were also sharp from the serving line.
Klarenbeek (15 digs) and sophomore middle hitter Tianna Top (three blocks) also contributed statistically for the Eagles, who prevailed with five extra points in the Game 4 overtime.
“R-T-R played with a lot of energy and covered the court very well, digging up a lot of our attacks,” summed up SWC head coach Brian Busker. “We didn’t give up. Our girls battled back and showed a lot of fight and desire, which I appreciate.
“But, we were not able to consistently attack the way we sometimes do. Give R-T-R a lot of credit. After beating a good Tracy (Milroy-Balaton) team last Friday night, they were able to outlast us and get the win here (tonight).”
The Knights, who swept fourth-seeded T-M-B in the quarterfinals Oct. 26, received a dozen key kills from senior outside hitter Leslie Willert Tuesday, while junior middle hitter Dana Schaefer and senior right side hitter Allison Pochardt each smacked five timely kills of their own.
Destinee Strand — who was serving when the Knights roared to their quick start in Game 5 — finished the match with 29 set assists, as she distributed the ball well, including numerous back sets which were frequently pounded to the fall by the arsenal of R-T-R attackers.
“Destinee is a smart player and a very reliable server, as well as a fine setter,” praised Williams about his junior co-captain. “She stepped it up tonight, as did everyone else. We played a good heads up match, playing smart and doing a good job of covering the court and digging up a lot of their tips.”
Pochardt contributed 16 digs, seven set assists and a perfect 20-of-20 serving night (with an ace) to the R-T-R victory, while Jorgensen (16 digs), Schaefer (three blocks) and junior middle hitter Justine Possail (three blocks) were key performers for the Knights, as well.
Willert (14-of-15, an ace) and Wichern (13-of-15) joined Pochardt with big serving nights for R-T-R.
Knights set tone early, hold leads throughout first two games
Staking themselves to early leads of 8-6 and 14-7, the Knights set the tone of the match early.
Keeping the ball in play and with Strand setting up Wichern and Willert, R-T-R owned an 18-13 lead after a scorching right-side kill by Pochardt (off a back set from Strand).
Pater did her best to bring the Eagles back with a pair of sizzling spike kills, but SWC never got closer than three points as R-T-R took a 1-0 lead in the match.
Game 2 was similar as Wichern warmed up for the Knights and Van Hulzen had several big-time kills for the Eagles.
Back-to-back kills by Willert snapped a 6-6 tie and the Knights maintained a small lead most of the rest of the set.
A dandy “hang time” middle kill by Possail and her ensusing smash through an Eagle block attempt lifted R-T-R to a 17-15 edge and the Knights effectively worked to their second four-point win of the match.
Eagles tie match by winning Games 3 and 4
SWC showed its skill and tenacity several times in Game 3, including a powerful right-side kill by Schmidt, followed by a down-the-line left-side kill by Tinklenberg which opened up an 11-8 lead for the Eagles.
A key late-game middle kill by Top put the Eagles close to victory, leading 23-19 and two consecutive R-T-R errors ended the set and made the match score 2-1.
Game 4 was a dandy all the way through, as the score was tied more often than not.
Willert’s left-side kill gave R-T-R a 10-7 lead and, a bit later, Strand’s cross-court set to Wichern for a left-side kill increased the advantage to 14-10.
Pochardt and Possail teamed together on a tandem block which helped the Knights’ maintain their four-point edge, 17-13.
But, the Eagles rallied and repeatedly tied the score before finally securing a two-point win, highlighted by several thundering kills by Pater, to even the match at 2-2.
With Strand serving and Wichern hitting, the Knights quickly took control in Game 5.
After Wichern’s initial kills, an serve serve by Jorgensen and a deep kill (just inside the back line) by Wichern gave R-T-R a 10-3 lead.
A middle kill by Possail, a set kill by Pochardt and a victory in a battle at the net by Possail clinched the match for the scrappy-playing Knights, who seem determined to keep their season going.
“We’re having fun playing volleyball right now and are looking forward to playing closer to home (Thursday) at Marshall,” concluded Williams, who coached R-T-R’s B-squad last year.