Panthers defeat Patriots, advance to section final

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In last year's Section 8AA volleyball tournament, Pequot Lakes upset Park Rapids in the second round.

The Panthers were determined to avoid another upset by Pequot Lakes in this year's section tournament.

Led by an efficient service game and a strong performance at the net, Park Rapids advanced to the Section 8AA championship match with a 26-24, 25-19, 23-25, 25-18 win over the Patriots Tuesday night at Walker.

Pequot Lakes, the No. 2 seed in the South half of the 8AA bracket, was looking to duplicate last year's 19-25, 25-20, 25-14, 25-23 playoff win and avenge two regular-season losses to the No. 1-seeded Panthers. Park Rapids entered this year's section rematch with a nine-match winning streak and a pair of wins over the Patriots during the regular season. The Panthers defeated Pequot Lakes 25-12, 25-23, 25-14 in a Mid-State Conference match on Sept. 26 and 25-20, 25-14 at the Fergus Falls tournament on Oct. 19.

In the section rematch, the Panthers took control of the match early by putting all 50 serves in play and recording seven aces in winning the first two sets. Park Rapids ended up putting 95 of 96 serves in play with 15 aces to help overcome 22 hitting errors. The Panthers finished with 47 kills, 10 ace blocks and 87 digs while making nine errors on serve receive.

Solid serving and execution at key moments were the keys to sending the Panthers to the section championship match.

"You could tell the girls were determined not to let that happen again," said Park Rapids head coach Stephanie Hanson about last year's upset loss. "It's hard to beat a team three times in a season. Pequot Lakes played well and gave us a challenge. I felt we played really well when we had to. The girls stayed focused and got the job done."

In Set 1, Pequot Lakes jumped out to a 5-1 lead, led 19-14 and had a set point at 24-23 before the Panthers rallied. A Kaisa Coborn dig that set up a kill by Jaiden McCollum and another kill by McCollum cut the Patriots' lead to 7-5 before a kill by Kari Skog gave Pequot Lakes an 11-6 advantage.A kill by Kamree Carlson, two ace serves by Kennedy Carlson and two kills by Rilee Michaelson sparked a 6-0 run that gave Park Rapids a 12-11 edge. After a kill by Michaelson kept the Panthers in front 13-12, the Patriots used two aces by Skog, a block by Lydia Hubbard and a kill by Clare Ganley to spark a 7-1 run for a 19-14 lead. Two kills by McCollum and an ace serve by Coborn tied the set at 19-19 before a kill by Ganley gave Pequot Lakes a 23-20 lead. A kill by Kamree Carlson and an ace serve by McCollum tied the set at 23-23 before a tip by Britt Kratochvil gave the Patriots a 24-23 edge. After a service error tied it at 24-24, two kills by Michaelson on Kamree Carlson's serve closed out the opening set.

"That was a huge set to pull off," said Hanson. "We started out with some nervous energy, but the girls battled. Winning that first set put us ahead and helped us the rest of the night."

Kills by Michaelson and Katelyn Weaver gave Park Rapids a 2-2 tie to start Set 2 before Kortne Byer served an ace and six points as the Panthers led 8-2. The Patriots responded with a 10-1 run as a kill by Addie Hubbard and an ace serve by Ganley provided a 12-9 advantage. Park Rapids countered with an 8-1 spurt as Weaver followed a kill with an ace serve during a four-point run. Kamree Carlson had two kills, Kayleah Breitweser tallied a block and McCollum served an ace as Park Rapids claimed a 17-13 advantage. A kill by Ganley and ace serve by Kratochvil cut the gap to 17-16 before the Panthers went on an 8-3 run to close out that set. Kamree Carlson had a kill and served three points while a block by Breitweser and two kills by Michaelson sparked that run.

Set 3 also featured a change in momentum as two kills by Kratochvil; kills by Addie Hubbard, Chloe Seeling, Skog and Ganley; and an ace serve by Maria Rickard ignited the Patriots to a 17-10 lead. Kennedy Carlson served an ace while Michaelson, McCollum and Kamree Carlson had kills for the Panthers in the early going. Park Rapids responded with an 11-3 spurt as two kills by Michaelson, ace serves by Coborn and Weaver, kills by Kennedy Carlson and Kamree Carlson, an ace serve by McCollum, and a kill by Breitweser gave the top seed a 21-20 edge. A block by Skog and a kill by Ganley extended the match.

A kill by Skog and an ace serve by Rickard gave Pequot Lakes a 2-0 lead before the Panthers took a 4-3 lead on two kills by Michaelson and an ace serve by Kamree Carlson. The Patriots tied it at 4-4 before Park Rapids took the lead for good as a kill by McCollum, an ace serve by Weaver, a kill by Kennedy Carlson, and two kills by Kamree Carlson provided a 12-7 lead. Kennedy Carlson served an ace, Michaelson had two kills and McCollum had a kill as Park Rapids maintained a 19-11 advantage. Kills by Kennedy Carlson and Kamree Carlson and two kills by Michaelson closed out the match and sent the Panthers to the section final.

Michaelson led the offense with a season-high 19 kills while Kamree Carlson pounded down 13 kills and McCollum had eight kills. Kennedy Carlson tallied 38 set assists and served four aces and 12 points.

Defensively, Kamree Carlson (21), Coborn (19), Weaver (17) and Byer (11) combined for 68 digs while Breitweser had two solo blocks and four assisted blocks. McCollum also had four assisted blocks.

Ganley's 14 kills, Skog's nine kills and 17 digs, Kratochvil's six kills and 16 digs, and Rickard's 17 digs led the Patriots, who end the season with a 21-9 record.

"Their coach said this was the best match they've played all season," said Hanson. "Our girls had a will to win. They knew it was do or die and that we needed to win and we did."

Park Rapids will carry a 24-2 record into the Section 8AA championship match against Roseau, the No. 1 seed in the North which defeated No. 2 Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton 25-22, 14-25, 23-25, 25-23, 15-12 in the other section semifinal match Tuesday night. Roseau is 23-9 on the season, including a 25-11, 25-14, 20-25, 25-15 loss to Park Rapids in the season opener.

Park Rapids and Roseau play Saturday (Nov. 4) at 7 p.m. at Fosston with the winner advancing to the state Class AA tournament.

"It's not going to be easy. We know Roseau is coming in as a stronger team now, so we have to be stronger. Mental toughness and execution are going to be important," said Hanson. "I think the girls are ready. Both teams are going to want to win. It's going to be a battle."

Park Rapids statistics

Attacks: Breitweser 2 (1 kill), Ken. Carlson 10 (3 kills), Coborn 2, Kam. Carlson 38 (13 kills), Weaver 16 (3 kills), McCollum 40 (8 kills), Michaelson 35 (19 kills).

Serves: Byer 16 for 16 (1 ace), Ken. Carlson 17 fo r18 (4 aces), Coborn 17 for 17 (2 aces), Kam. Carlson 13 for 13 (2 aces), Weaver 16 for 16 (3 aces), McCollum 16 for 16 (3 aces).

Service points: Ken. Carlson 12, Coborn 9, McCollum 9, Weaver 8, Byer 7, Kam. Carlson 6.

Sets: Ken. Carlson 118 (38 assists), Weaver 4 (1 assist), Michaelson 4, Coborn 3 (1 assist), Kam. Carlson 3, Byer 2.

Digs: Kam. Carlson 21, Coborn 19, Weaver 17, Byer 11, Ken. Carlson 9, McCollum 7, Michaelson 2, Breitweser 1.

Blocks (solo-assists): Breitweser 2-4, McCollum 0-4, Ken. Carlson 0-3, Kam. Carlson 0-2, Michaelson 0-2, Weaver 0-1.

Serve receive: Byer 11 for 13, Coborn 11 for 11, Kam. Carlson 13 for 15, Weaver 7 for 9, McCollum 19 for 22, Michaelson 4 for 4.