After winning the first two sets and taking an early lead in Set 3, it appeared that the Park Rapids volleyball team was on its way to returning to the state Class AA tournament.

Pequot Lakes quickly shifted the momentum by controlling the rest of the match and rallying for a marathon win in the Section 8AA championship match at Wadena on Saturday, Nov. 2.

Six service errors by the Panthers in Set 3, five service aces by Pequot Lakes in Set 4, and a dominating performance by the 6-foot-1 duo of junior hitters Lydia Hubbard and Kate Bolz-Andolshek at the net in Set 5 led the Patriots to a 23-25, 22-25, 25-19, 25-14, 15-7 victory.

The win sent Pequot Lakes to the state tournament for the second time in school history while denying the Panthers their second state trip in school history.

This match between the two No. 1 seeds in the section was expected to be close. Both teams lived up to those expectations.

Park Rapids and Pequot Lakes battled in the section tournament for the fourth straight season. Pequot Lakes eliminated the Panthers 19-25, 25-20, 25-14, 25-23 in the Section 8AA South title match in 2016 while Park Rapids eliminated the Patriots 26-24, 25-19, 23-25, 25-18 in the South finals in 2017 and 25-16, 25-18, 25-17 in the South title match last season. The two teams split matches this season with Pequot Lakes prevailing 18-25, 25-16, 16-14 at the Class AA Showcase and the Panthers locking up the Mid-State Conference title with a 22-25, 25-20, 25-21, 25-19 victory.

The first two sets went back and forth and featured 20 ties and 11 lead changes before the defending section champs finished strong to take a 2-0 lead.

Two kills by Bolz-Andolshek gave Pequot Lakes a 5-2 lead in Set 1 before two kills by Rilee Michaelson and an ace serve by Kendra Scholz tied it at 5-5. A block by Hubbard gave the Patriots an 8-5 edge before a kill and an ace serve by Michaelson tied it at 9-9. A kill by Hubbard and an ace serve by Mariah Rickard gave Pequot Lakes an 11-9 lead before kills by Kamree Carlson, Scholz and Michaelson gave the Panthers a 15-13 advantage. A kill and tip by Michaelson kept the Panthers in front 20-16 before a block by Hubbard and two ace serves during a 4-0 service run by Rickard gave Pequot Lakes a 21-20 lead. Hubbard and Macy Martini had kills during that stretch. Another kill by Bolz-Andolshek gave the Patriots a 23-22 lead before two kills and a block by Michaelson enabled the Panthers to close out the opening set.

Kills by Katelyn Weaver, Scholz and Michaelson were offset by a kill by Hubbard and a block by Bolz-Andolshek and Maddy Morrison as Set 2 was tied a 3-3. An ace serve by Weaver, two kills apiece by Michaelson and Carlson, a kill by Kayleah Breitweser, and an ace serve by Katie Burlingame gave the Panthers a 13-9 advantage. Pequot Lakes responded with a 8-1 run as three kills by Hubbard and a pair of ace serves by Mirjana Ganley produced a 17-14 lead. Two kills by Michaelson put the Panthers in front 20-19, a block by Breitweser made it 21-20 and a kill by Carlson made it 22-21 before a tip by Weaver and a kill by Carlson helped close out that set.

Kills by Scholz, Carlson and Michaelson and a tip by Weaver gave the Panthers a 4-2 edge to start Set 3. Phoebe Glenn then served four straight points as two kills by Bolz-Andolshek gave Pequot Lakes a 7-4 edge. Kills by Burlingame, Carlson and Breitweser kept the Panthers within 11-8 before kills by Carlson and Scholz and a block by Michaelson had Park Rapids within 14-11. Three kills by Hubbard kept the Patriots in the lead. Three kills by Bolz-Andolshek and two Park Rapids service errors gave Pequot Lakes a 20-15 advantage. Burlingame followed a kill by Breitweser with an ace serve as the Panthers cut the gap to 20-17, but a kill by Ganley was followed by three kills by Hubbard as Pequot Lakes closed out the third set.

Park Rapids opened Set 4 with a 3-0 lead before two kills by Michaelson provided a 5-3 cushion. The Patriots took control with a 15-4 run. Bolz-Andolshek served an ace during a 6-0 service run to make it 10-5 before a block and two kills by Hubbard made it 13-8. Ganley then served two aces while kills by Martini and Bolz-Andolshek extended the Patriots’ lead to 18-9. A kill by Carlson ended that spurt before another kill by Carlson, two kills by Michaelson and an ace serve by Carlson cut the gap to 18-13. Two blocks by Bolz-Andolshek and Morrison and an ace serve by Ella Pfeifer closed out that set and evened the match.

The Panthers seemed to regain the momentum to start Set 5 as a tip by Kora Just, a block by Burlingame and Scholz, and an ace serve by Weaver led to an early 3-1 lead. Three kills and a block by Bolz-Andolshek along with an ace serve by Glenn were offset by two kills by Michaelson as Pequot Lakes held a 6-5 lead. The Patriots took control with an 8-0 run as Bolz-Andolshek followed a kill by serving seven straight points. Hubbard had four kills and a block during that run as Pequot Lakes held a 14-5 advantage. After a kill by Carlson and a block by Weaver and Breitweser cut the margin to 14-7, a service error by the Panthers ended the match.

The Patriots used 49 kills, 24 blocks and 12 ace serves to advance to state. Hubbard (21 kills, six blocks) and Bolz-Andolshek (15 kills, six blocks) combined for 36 kills and 12 blocks while Morrison was in on eight blocks. Ganley served four aces with 17 digs while Mariah Rickard served three aces with 20 digs.

Pequot Lakes’ only other trip to state was in 1994. The Patriots, who were the No. 1 seed in the South, will carry a 27-5 record to the state tournament.

Park Rapids, the No. 1 seed in the North, ended the season with a 23-8 record.