College Volleyball: Raiders capture region title, advance to nationals
Jenny Skoog is not likely to forget her final touch on her home volleyball court at Central Lakes College. The 5-foot-9 sophomore from Menahga powered a kill down the line to give the top-seeded Raiders a 32-30 win in the third set of a 3-0 win o...
Jenny Skoog is not likely to forget her final touch on her home volleyball court at Central Lakes College.
The 5-foot-9 sophomore from Menahga powered a kill down the line to give the top-seeded Raiders a 32-30 win in the third set of a 3-0 win over the No. 2 Mesabi Norse in the Region 13B championship game Saturday on the CLC campus in Brainerd.
The victory advances the 26-2 Raiders to the NJCAA Division III National Tournament Nov. 13-14 in Rochester, MN. It will be the 12th trip to the nationals in the 25 years the Raiders have been coached by Jane Peterson. CLC won national titles in 2000, 2001 and 2007 and is ranked third nationally this year.
Skoog's winning kill, her 12th of the day, capped a dramatic end to the marathon third set that saw seven ties and six lead changes in the final 15 points combined for both teams after Mesabi called a timeout with a 24-23 lead.
"I was just really excited because I saw the line open and I like to hit it down the line more than anything," said Skoog. "That third set was close, but honestly, I never felt we were going to lose. It's not been easy, but we have it in us to keep pushing along and we never give up."
The Norse had a chance to win the third set leading 30-29, but a tip by Skoog for the change of sides tied the score 30-30 and an out of bounds hit by Mesabi preceded Skoog's winning kill.
The Raiders started slow in the opening set and trailed 19-15 before going on a 10-2 run that included two big kills by reserve Kaitlynn Christen to win 25-21.
"That happened (Friday) night too - we were a little jittery and nervous at the start," said Peterson. "All year they've had to deal with the pressure of being a top-ranked team and it's a big deal for the girls. The expectations for this program are really high and for a lot of people, this is a new way of thinking. It's hard and takes some getting used to, but they're doing it just right and learning to struggle through things and come out on the other side."
CLC won the second set 25-14 closing on a 13-4 run after Mesabi had pulled to within 12-10 on an 8-3 run of its own.
"That second set was all about our great serving," said Peterson. "They (Mesabi) couldn't get anything going. Our serving has improved so much. We only had three aces in that second set, but the stats don't show how tough the serving was. Even if it wasn't an ace, there were so many times that they were just free-balling it back to us."
CLC's Rachel Mathias also came alive at the net in the second set and finished the game with a team-high 14 kills and four block assists.
"We always start a little slow in the first game, but once we get in synch, things start meshing," said Mathias. "Ashton (Kapphahn) is a really good setter and that helps us to be better hitters."
Kapphahn tipped up 41 set assists and had 108 attempts.
"Those 108 attempts tell you how competitive a game it was and that there were so many long volleys," said Peterson.
Ashley Abear was credited with 19 digs and Justyne Litzau, Ellen Stromgren and Britta Torgerson each had two ace serves for the Raiders.
"Another key was that our role players like Christen, Stromgren and Faith Kassulker didn't have any attacking errors," said Peterson. "They don't get as much notice as some of the others, but they've been solid."
Kapphahn and Journee Howard, who had seven kills, were named to the Region 13B All-Tournament team and Peterson is the Region 13B Coach of the Year.
The Raiders have won 11 straight since a 3-0 loss to Iowa Lakes Sept. 19 and have only lost two sets in that stretch while winning 33. However, Peterson is quick to point out that the road to success hasn't been that easy.
"We've haven't been just beating people easily and winning by 10 points all the time," she said. "We win a lot of close games where the other team has 20, 22, or 23 points a lot of the time. We've won a lot of close games and that's helped prepare us for this.
"However, we haven't had that kind of competitive end to a set for a long time," she added. "I have to give Mesabi credit, they were really good and didn't stop fighting."
"We've gotten way better as the season has gone along," said Mathias. "We really never give up and will always fight for the next point no matter what. Even if there's a setback, we keep playing and try to have fun. It's not all about the wins."
Mesabi Range 21 14 30
Central Lakes 25 25 32
Central Lakes statistics
Justyne Litzau 2 ace serves, 3 digs
Jenny Skoog 12 kills, 7 digs, 2 blocks
Alex Lucken 5 digs
Ashley Abear 1 set assist, 19 digs
Kaitlynn Christen 8 kills, 2 digs, 1 block
Ashton Kapphahn 3 kills, 41 set assists 1 ace serve, 2 digs
Ellen Stromgren 2 kills, 1 set assist, 2 ace serves
Faith Kassulker 3 kills
Journee Howard 7 kills, 2 set assists, 1 dig, 1 block
Rachel Mathias 14 kills, 1 dig
Britta Torgerson 2 set assists, 2 ace serves, 7 digs
Overall: CLC 26-2. Next: Central Lakes in NJCAA Division III tournament Nov. 13-14 at Rochester, Minn.