For the seventh straight year the Central Lakes College Raiders will head to the NJCAA Division III national tournament after a 3-0 win over Mesabi Saturday, Nov 2, in the Region 13B final at Brainerd.
Two-year players Sydney Forbord, Hailey Tihlarik, Maggi Fellerman, Kylie Porter and Sydney Berg completed two years of unbeaten home court play. The Raiders have not lost a division game on their home floor since 2013.
It is not and area of focus for CLC head coach Jane Peterson, who earned Northern Division coach of the year, but the team is aware of the streak.
“We talk a lot about getting people’s best game,” Peterson said. “Last night, with Northland, that was their best game and it is good for us to be challenged. I wish there were more. But I don’t talk about what we have to do being undefeated or hanging another banner up there we don’t talk about that at all. But they are aware of the tradition and you can have the pressure work for you or against you.”
Mesabi beat Itasca Friday night to set up Saturday’s match. The Raiders and Norse met twice during the regular season. At CLC in September, CLC won the fifth set 15-12. Last week at Mesabi, the Raiders won 3-0.
That was the template the Raiders used Saturday, led by Nicole Kortan’s 15 kills and Sydney Berg’s 11 kills and three blocks. Berg was named tournament MVP. Haley Schleper added six kills and four blocks.
CLC also protected the middle of the floor which was a problem in Friday’s semifinal win over Northland.
“The very first play of the game was them putting the ball in the middle of the court and us not getting it,” Peterson said. “We gave a good effort, but didn’t get it. There was a determination today to not let that be the thing that got us today. They weren’t as aggressive as they could have been partly because of our serves and because of our block.”
Fellerman added, “It is no secret that the middle part of our court is the weak spot. We talked a lot about being confident and just going for it and I think that helped a lot.”
Three service acs by Tihlarik got the Raiders off to a 5-2 lead in Game One. Two kills by Fellerman and Porter built the lead to 16-8 and the team finished the game with a six-point run and a ace-serve from Sarah Bennett to take the first game 25-12.
Three points by block and 11 by kills punctuated a 25-14 CLC win in Game Two. Another key was the defense, led by Tihlarik and the defenders on the back row. Tihlarik finished with 14 digs and earned all-tournament honors along with Fellerman.
“I have been playing with Hailey for years and we also played against each other during high school,” Fellerman said of her teammate. “I could never get a kill because she got the ball up and I appreciate her playing our back row. Without her passes nobody gets to hit.”
Tihlarik said bringing 100% energy and effort all the time is key for the 5-foot-1 defensive specialist.
“My teammates are awesome and uplifting,” Tihlarik said. “I try to be a firecracker talking to everyone and communicating to everyone and going after every ball I can. All of us lift each other and we play so well together that it doesn’t make my job too hard playing defense. I just try to play 100% all the time.”
With the score 13 a piece in Game Three, the Raiders went on a six-point run with a kill from Berg, a service ace from Kortan and a block from Berg and Fellerman highlighting the run. Mesabi couldn’t regain momentum and a kill from Kortan finished off the 25-19 win.
One player celebrating was Forbord who saw her minutes decline this year, but found another way to add to the Raiders’ success.
“Obviously I am not playing as much as last year and I had to accept my role, but it is not a big deal because I love the team,” Forbord said. “The energy is great and having great bench energy is great and that is what I have been working my butt off to bring that. It is different but, I am very happy where I am at.”
CLC will compete at the NJCAA Division III National Tournament in Rochester Nov. 14-16.
“Coming into the season we were overconfident because we knew we had the moving parts of a good team,” Fellerman said. “We kind of had to take a step because we were struggling and not playing well together. We got back to the basics of paying with each other and playing for fun and that is what got us to play together.”
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