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College Volleyball: Itasca pushes CLC to 5 sets in Raiders victory

Facing an inspired team and fighting back a week of sickness, the Central Lakes College Raiders pushed through their semifinal match against Itasca Friday and won in five sets to move on to the Region 13B championship at Central Lakes College.

The Raiders, seeded No. 1, lost the first set against the No. 4-seeded Vikings 25-22 and lost the fourth set 26-24, despite a furious comeback. The Raiders then prevailed 15-8 in the fifth and deciding set.

"We didn't have a big panic out there when things were going wrong," said head coach Jane Peterson of the five-set struggle. "We had been sick all week and we couldn't breathe. It wasn't a good week of preparation, and I thought we did a good job of staying tough."

The Raiders were led by Paige Wallevand, who had another big statistical night with 14 kills, 21 set assists, two ace serves and four blocks, to go along with 13 digs. Her biggest set of the night was the fifth set with five kills.

"My adrenaline is really going right now," Wallevand said after the match. "We knew that Itasca was going to put up a good fight. We didn't come out at the start very good, but we came together as a team and pulled through."

Slow starts are something the Raiders have dealt with all season, but most nights they have been able to regroup and still win the opening set. It was not the case against Itasca, a team CLC beat twice during the regular season by scores of 3-0 each time.

The Vikings received big games from Kenzi Riedel and BreAnna Seelye, while the Raiders were struggling with their block and Itasca took the first set 25-22.

"Itasca played great," said Peterson. "That is the best Vikings team I have seen at the end of the year and they were just willing to go for it and play like you have nothing to lose, and they didn't give up."

Down 1-0, CLC responded by winning the next two sets with scores of 25-16 in each to take a 2-1 overall lead. Hannah Peltier finished with 13 kills, and Cassie Smieja and Kayla Larson each tallied eight kills. Becca Jensen may have played her biggest match of the year and was a force during the third and fourth set as she finished with nine kills and three blocks.

"Becca is kind of the glue that connects with everyone," Peterson said. "She likes everyone to be happy and wants to make sure everyone is good and she encourages them. She is hard on herself, but she has learned to remain more positive and she leads in her own special way."

Peterson also gave credit to Kahlen Manthey, who finished with 31 digs, for a solid defensive game.

With their season on the brink, the Vikings responded with a dominant performance in the early part of the fourth set, going on an 8-1 run to start and building that lead to 16-6. The Raiders, led by Jensen and Larson, clawed their way back, and CLC went on a six-point run facing set point to tie the Vikings at 24-24. Itasca would get the final two points to push the match to a fifth set, but the momentum had swung to the Raiders.

"We said that we needed to keep that momentum rolling and we carried it through the end of the fourth and into the fifth set," Wallevand said of the Raiders' state of mind. "And we realized that if we didn't win we were done, so we needed to get going."

The fifth set opened with a five-point run from the Raiders with Wallevand notching a kill and a block. Wallevand then recorded three kills in a row and the Raiders were on their way to a 15-8 win.

"In a situation like that, there is not a lot a coach has to do with what goes on," Peterson said of her approach between the fourth and fifth set. "Some individual players have to want it. There was a point in the fourth set where we set it to Paige and she just went for it and killed it and you could see the rest of the team kind of say, it is going to be OK."

The Raiders, who entered the match ranked fifth in NJCAA Division II, haven't lost a home Northern Division match since the 2012 season. They will be playing on Saturday, Nov. 4, for their fifth straight trip to the national tournament.

Itasca 25 16 16 26 8

Central Lakes 22 25 25 24 15

Raider statistics

Kahlen Manthey 1 kill, 1 set assist, 31 digs

Hannah Peltier 13 kills, 3 set assists, 1 ace serve, 11 digs, 2 blocks

Cassie Smieja 8 kills, 2 digs, 7 blocks

Brooke Jerger 1 dig

Morgan Melby 30 set assists, 3 digs

Kaitlyn Luksik 6 kills, 2 digs

Kayla Larson 8 kills, 4 blocks

Paige Wallevand 14 kills, 21 set assists, 2 ace serves, 13 digs, 4 blocks

Becca Jensen 9 kills, 3 blocks

Carlie Schroeder 1 ace serve, 13 digs

Overall: CLC 24-8. Next: No. 1 CLC vs. No. 2 Northland/No. 3 Hibbing winner 12 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 4.