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Here we go: HL-O/F tops WHS in volleyball opener, but Trojans finish with a flair

Athleticism and team chemistry helped the Heron Lake-Okabena/Fulda Coyotes sting host Worthington 3-0 in the high school volleyball opener for both teams Thursday night, but a spirited finish by the Trojans showed the home crowd what their team might be capable of this fall.

WORTHINGTON -- Athleticism and team chemistry helped the Heron Lake-Okabena/Fulda Coyotes sting host Worthington 3-0 in the high school volleyball opener for both teams Thursday night, but a spirited finish by the Trojans showed the home crowd what their team might be capable of this fall.

The Coyotes are widely regarded as one of the more promising squads in southwest Minnesota, but the Trojans -- who won just one match in last year’s COVID-shortened season -- rallied back from an 18-13 deficit in the third set to forge a 24-24 tie.

HL-O/F ultimately prevailed 26-24 on an ace hit by sophomore outside hitter Marissa Becker that found the floor between three Trojan defenders, and another ace by senior setter Ellyson Bang just out of the reach of a diving Tarren Spartz.

The first two games were 25-10 and 25-17.

Both teams’ coaches came away with something to hold onto, but neither were entirely pleased.

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“I saw a lot of good things. We started really strong, that was awesome,” said HL-O/F’s Trista Rhubee. “I would have liked to see us keep our lead (in the third game) and not let them have momentum.

“They were making mistakes, so we were making mistakes. Our feet got lazy,” she said.

Worthington head coach Jessica Hogan said her team fell into a lull in the first game, and in the second game the Trojans made too many mistakes with their serves. The third-game run, however, showed something special.

“We started to jell a little bit. We got on our own serving runs. We had two good serving runs in that stretch, and it picked up our defense. We got some blocks at the net,” Hogan said, adding, “We just gotta keep learning to play together. This group hasn’t played together too much. We did a pretty good job of serve receiving. We’ve gotta work on our serving. We’ve gotta put a lot of pressure on the other team.”

Midway through the third game, it looked like HL-O/F could not be challenged. But the Trojans begged to differ. Down 18-13, the team’s top two net players, Spartz and Ellie Weg, played excellently together at the net, and Allison Iverson made a solid serving run as the hosts came within three, 22-19, on a Spartz ace hit.

HL-O/F scored the next point after taking a much-needed time-out, but with Spartz serving bullets, Weg scored on an ace block and the Coyotes led by just one, 23-22. A Weg ace hit evened the score at 23-all, and after another Coyote point, a soft ace hit by Weg made it 24-24. Determined not to go to a fourth set, the visitors scored the next two points.

Bang had 21 set assists in the match while Taryn Evers and Samantha Untiedt had seven kills apiece. Evers also had seven block assists and one solo block, and Untiedt had four block assists.

Chrissy Hermeling was 17-for-17 serving for Heron Lake-Okabena/Fulda and teammate Emma Rasche was 14-for-16 with two aces.

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For Worthington, Addison Gerber had 15 set assists and Spartz had 15 kills. Weg chipped in with six kills and Brooklyn Scheitel-Taylor had four. Weg and Karissa Maxwell contributed six and five digs, respectively. Gerber served for nine points.

The Trojans played without one of their top net players, senior Olivia Hayenga, who is still rehabbing an ankle sprain.

Rhubee said that despite the close call in the third set, nothing happened Thursday to cause her to question her players’ abilities.

“They’ve got the go-get-it mindset. They’ll hit the floor for anything. And we’ve got hitters who will try new things,” she said.

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