Comets chase away Mustangs
CONRAD — When the heavy artillery rotated into the back row, BCLUW proved to have a few more weapons in its arsenal than East Marshall.
The Comet volleyball team found the necessary complements to Easton Swanson’s absense from the front row and turned back the Mustangs in the regional opener for both teams, winning 25-20, 25-19, 26-24 in Tuesday’s Class 2A Region 5 first-round rematch between NICL West Division foes.
While the first meeting nearly a month ago in LeGrand needed five sets to determine a winner, this elimination match found an earlier finish because of the Comets’ supporting cast. Swanson, who is 10th in the state in all classes with 412 kills, delivered her part of the deal for BCLUW (21-15), but it was what her teammates did when she rotated off the front line that made the difference.
Madison Ubben had six of her eight kills in a back-and-forth third set, Lauren Anderson totaled five kills, and Brooke Vry’s surprising contribution of two kills in the third set proved pivotal down the stretch as BCLUW fought to finish off East Marshall (7-20) for the second time this season.
Swanson’s 13 kills led the Comets, but her helpers had as much to do with advancement as anybody did.
“There was a lot of intensity going on, we were nervous but we knew we could get it,” said Swanson, a junior outside hitter. “Madison did extremely well tonight when we really needed her, and Lauren did really well too.”
Swanson’s counterpart — East Marshall junior Juliana Arifi — posted a match-high 15 kills in carrying the load for the Mustangs. Ryleigh Thompson tallied another seven kills, but there simply wasn’t a widespread enough of an attack from the visitors.
McKaylie Coleman contributed three kills and Cloe Kelling had another, but East Marshall needed more balance to buoy its attack — especially when Arifi was in the back row.
“We were trying find a rotation that we could get some more consistency in our attack when Juliana was in the back row,” said East Marshall head coach Terri Westendorf. “Ryleigh started to find it there in the end, and she can be very effective, but she struggled early on and I think that got into her head. By the end of the match she was hitting very well.
“We had some very similar problems [as BCLUW] and we talked about trying to score points when [Arifi] was in the back row.”
East Marshall made its way to a six-point lead during the third set with Thompson serving up back-to-back aces amid a five-point surge, but the Comets countered with two of their own to take a 19-17 lead. Maria Rasmusson served the Mustangs to a 21-19 advantage, but BCLUW’s role players came up huge down the stretch.
Bailey Ashton, who had just five attack attempts in the match, was blocked by Thompson on the right side. The junior left-hander dove to keep the ball off the floor, Swanson slid in to help the recovery, and Ubben’s perfectly placed tip landed in-bounds on the other side of the net.
The point kicked off a 7-3 Comet rally to end the third set, and the match, and advance BCLUW to Monday’s regional finals against host Belle Plaine (18-9).
“Bailey didn’t really get a lot coming her way throughout the game, the flow of the game just didn’t lend itself to that, but that was a big ball that she dug up,” said BCLUW head coach Kristen Garber.
Thompson’s third ace of the night tied the score at 24-all, but Ubben put the Comets in front with a successful right-side attack. Garber then called on senior Mackenzie Trinkle to step in and serve for Ubben — Trinkle’s first steps on the court all night — and the serve was successful. East Marshall eventually turned to Arifi to try and regain the serve, but her kill was erased by the referee’s whistle as she was called for being in the net.
BCLUW, regrouping for what it thought was a 25-all tie, suddenly realized the call had gone their way and broke into celebration with one last win on its home court.
“It seems like all season those calls have not gone our way to it was kind of fun to have one go our way,” Garber said. “I can’t see the net or the line from [the bench] but I’m going to trust that the refs called what they saw and we’ll take the point and celebrate the win.”
Westendorf, who also had no line of sight on the final play, ceded the point as well.
“Juliana was going aggressively to the ball, she did everything she could to get it in, she put the perfect ball down for the set that she got,” Westendorf said. “I’m glad I’m not the ref that had to call it.
“Our girls worked their tails off, never said die in that game. A ball here or there really makes a huge difference. I give them an absolute ‘A’ for effort and intensity and scrapp
Arifi finished with a team-leading 32 digs as well, and Brittany Anderson had 24 more. Kelling made a Mustang-best four blocks. Setters McKenzie Hinegardner had 10 assists and served 11-for-11 with two aces, while Maria Rasmusson had nine assists and went 8-for-9 with one ace.
Kerrigan Hatch pitched in four kills in the first two sets for BCLUW before Vry finished out the third set. Cate Nason came away with 27 assists, Swanson led with 17 digs, and Kaylee Goecke had 13 digs. Both Swanson and Anderson had two blocks, and the Comets served 70-for-73 as a team with just one ace.
All in all it was enough to erase the memories of a five-set struggle to victory over East Marshall the first time around.
“I feel like we had a lot more energy than we did the first time we played against them,” Swanson said. “This game I feel like we were pumped up and ready to win.”