Working on closing out matches during practice paid off for the Park Rapids volleyball team in the final Mid-State Conference match of the season.

After splitting the first four sets, the Panthers used a quick start in Set 5 to prevail 26-24, 17-25, 25-23, 15-25, 15-10 over Aitkin at the Area High School gym on Thursday, Oct. 7.

“It was a great win,” said Park Rapids head coach Christine Sauer. “The match allowed the girls to play with confidence on offense and not be afraid to swing at the ball. This was by far our best night on the books in the offense category, with a few girls in double digits.”

The Panthers served their way to a 13-8 lead in Set 1 behind ace serves by Kate Aukes, Keely Peterson, Chloe Tretbar and Marriyam Ejaz. Tretbar also had two kills and Abby Felts had a kill in the early going. Kills by Aukes and Riley Pike kept Park Rapids in front 17-12 before the Gobblers rallied for a 17-17 tie. Three kills by Felts and an ace serve by Pike helped the Panthers close out the opening set.

Haylee VanSanten served Aitkin to a 5-0 lead to start Set 2. Kills by Tretbar, Pike, Quinn Hunter and Felts cut the gap to 9-6 before Anna Carlson served a 6-0 run as the Gobblers led 16-7. Kills by Felts, Ejaz, Hunter and Aukes kept Park Rapids within 19-13. Kills by Pike and Felts and an ace serve by Peterson made it 24-17 before Aitkin ended that set.

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Two kills apiece by Pike and Tretbar and ace serves by Aukes and Peterson gave the Panthers a 10-4 lead to start Set 3. Felts, Pike, Ejaz and Aukes had kills as Park Rapids maintained a 22-19 advantage. A tip and a kill by Pike closed out that set.

In Set 4, Aitkin extended an 8-5 lead to 12-5 behind the serving of Kenzie Hamilton. Two kills by Felts and kills by Tretbar and Ejaz helped the Panthers pull to within 19-13 before Aitkin went on a 6-2 run to force a deciding set.

Park Rapids took control to start Set 5 as kills by Aukes and Tretbar and tips by Pike and Hunter led to a 6-2 lead. Pike served four straight points as a kill by Felts made it 11-3. Another kill by Felts and a tip by Ejaz gave Park Rapids a 13-6 advantage before a pair of kills by Aukes ended the match.

“I just reminded the girls that we practice these scenarios in practice, that it goes quick and to start right out of the gate,” said Sauer. “We tried to focus offensively on swinging strong and not being too worried about finding spots on the court and that worked to our advantage.”

Felts had 17 kills, Pike had 12 kills and Aukes served 11 points to lead the Panthers’ offense. Pike (25) and Ejaz (20) combined for 45 set assists as Park Rapids pounded down 53 kills. Peterson (21), Ejaz (20), Tretbar (16), Aukes (14) and Pike (10) had double digits in digs as the Panthers improved to 3-2 in conference matches and 3-9 overall. Aitkin fell to 0-5 in Mid-State matches and 5-14 overall.

Pequot Lakes captured the conference title with a 5-0 record while Staples-Motley finished at 4-1. Following the Panthers were Detroit Lakes at 2-3 and Crosby-Ironton at 1-4.

“Knowing that we finished with a winning record in our conference is a rewarding feeling,” said Sauer. “We have had a lot of close matches that have resulted in losses and our full record doesn't fully represent the strengths of our team. Our conference record does.”

Park Rapids statistics
Serving: Aukes 20 for 20 (2 aces), Peterson 17 for 18 (3 aces), Pike 15 for 16 (1 ace), Ejaz 15 for 16 (1 ace), Felts 14 for 14, Tretbar 13 for 14 (1 ace).
Service points: Aukes 11, Peterson 9, Pike 8, Ejaz 7, Felts 7, Tretbar 6.
Attacks: Pike 42 (12 kills), Felts 33 (17 kills), Aukes 38 (7 kills), Ejaz 30 (7 kills), Tretbar 20 (7 kills), Hunter 16 (3 kills).
Sets: Pike 89 (25 assists), Ejaz 68 (20 assists), Peterson 7 (3 assists), Aukes 3, Felts 2, Hunter 2, Tretbar 1.
Digs: Peterson 21, Ejaz 20, Tretbar 16, Aukes 14, Pike 10, Felts 3, Scholz 1.
Blocks (solo-assists): Tretbar 1-0, Hunter 0-2, Pike 0-2.
Serve receive: Peterson 37 for 37, Aukes 15 for 18, Tretbar 15 for 19, Pike 12 for 14, Ejaz 10 for 11, Scholz 1 for 1.