Volleyball: Spuds return to section final, Warriors denied
While all the talk has been about top-seeded Willmar, someone forgot to tell defending Section 8-3A champion Moorhead.
The No. 3-seeded Spuds took one more step toward defending their title with a 3-0 victory Tuesday, Oct. 23, against No. 2 Brainerd in a packed and wild Brainerd High School gymnasium.
It was a balanced offensive attack and a stonewall defense that baffled Brainerd and finished the Warriors' season with a 23-6 record.
"Our block was late most of the night," said Warriors head coach Rick Kuehlwein. "We knew what we needed to do, but we didn't do it.
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Moorhead 3, Brainerd 0
- Key: Moorhead's balanced attack saw six players finish with at least six kills
- Overall: Brd 23-6, M 20-9
- Next: Moorhead vs. Willmar/Sauk Rapids winner in Section 8-3A final at site TBA Saturday, Nov. 3
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"We didn't have a good night offensively either. Both Courtney (Russell) and Avery (Eckman) only had six kills apiece. Our whole game plan coming in was to spread the ball around, but because we were out of system for most of the night, we would set the ball up and there were three blockers right there every time."
Moorhead's Brook Carney paced the Spuds with 15 kills, Sam Zimmerman added seven as did Jalen Ennen and Mallory Lee contributed six.
"We don't rely on one player," Moorhead head coach Char Lien said. "We really try to mix it up and set pin-to-pin and make that middle block have to move and create some holes. Then things open up.
"We aren't a dominant hitting team. We jump well, but we're not a dominant hitting team so the more holes we can create in the block just makes it that much easier."
Moorhead's Claire Howell finished with 35 set assists and six digs, but none of the three games were runaway wins for the Spuds.
In Game One, Brainerd held 8-4 and 14-11 leads, but the Spuds would come back and tie it at 15-15 before Lee rattled off six-straight serves and Moorhead grabbed a 20-15 edge. Unfortunately for Brainerd, many of Moorhead's points came on Warrior errors.
"A lot of it was unforced errors," Kuehlwein said. "We would hit into the net or out of bounds. We missed open court on a free ball tonight.
"We wanted more of a balanced attack, but we wanted to be in system more. We were out of system most of the time, in other words, we weren't getting the ball to the setter so she could make a good set. Her options were limited. We had to keep putting the ball outside so they could just keep putting three blockers on us. That's what happened."
Zimmerman finished with seven blocks. Megan Haugo added four and Lee collected three.
"We knew that their bread and butter was the outsides so we knew if we could at least slow that down and get some hands on it, it was going to make that defense a lot easier," Lien said. "We did a better job of that."
Moorhead's only downfall was service errors. Lien attributed that toward nerves and an aggressive serve mentality. Despite the numerous errors, Brainerd's service receive was well below Kuehlwein's liking.
Moorhead finished with seven ace serves. Brainerd tallied just two.
The Spuds led most of Game Two, but couldn't pull away until point 13. Leading 12-11, they went on a 13-2 run to close out the win.
Brainerd cut the Spuds' Game 3 lead to 13-12, but then Moorhead rattled off a 12-3 run to close out the match and snap Brainerd's 10-game winning streak.
"That's been really interesting because I've been thinking about that in my own mind's eye," Lien said. "We've had to battle point for point in so many matches later this year and we've held our own. This is very much a 'steady Eddy' group. It drives me crazy at times because I want a little emotion at times, but they don't get too razzed because of that.
"I don't know who it's going to be, but we'll get one server that will get back there and serve four or five straight and that's just enough to give us an edge. We just have to wait until point 15 or 17 to finally hit that spot."
It was Brainerd's first section semifinal appearance since 1991. It's the most wins in program history and with both middles, Eckman and a host of other players coming back, Kuehlwein is optimistic the program's upward trend will continue.
"We're young," Kuehlwein said. "The future is really bright. We just need to get some gym time out of these people to practice with them."
Moorhead 25 25 25
Brainerd 21 13 15
Gracie Rivard 1 ace serve
Courtney Russell 1 ace serve, 6 kills, 12 digs
Jenna Meyer 12 digs
Avery Eckman 6 kills, 17 digs