The Pirates went down 2-0, but roared back to take the match 3-2.
EAST GRAND FORKS - The East Grand Forks Green Wave thought they had bested Crookston. For two sets, they did. East Side controlled the match to earn a 2-0 lead and sat one win away from sending the Pirates home with a sweep on their minds. Instead, Crookston rattled off three straight set victories for the first time since September 4 and stunned the Green Wave with a 3-2 win (19-25, 22-25, 25-17, 25-21, 15-6) on East Side's Senior Night.
Not only did the comeback serve as the first time a Crookston team topped a Green Wave team in the fall of 2018, but the win also marked an achievement for Head Coach Ashley Stopa.
“It’s actually my first win against EGF as a head coach and I’ve seen them about four or five times,” Stopa said. “The girls are super excited because they’re multisport athletes and they haven’t beaten EGF in any girls sports in quite some time. It meant a lot to them.”
Everything went right for the Green Wave in set one. East Grand Forks benefited from three aces and jumped out to a 9-1 lead. The Pirates put together a mini rally taking four of the next five points featuring a kill and an ace from Rachel Hefta (Sr. MH), who scored a season-high 24 kills on the night, as well as a kill from Kasey Cwikla (Jr. OH).
East Side responded with an 8-4 run to lead 18-9. The Pirates used three Hefta kills and an ace to trade points with East Grand Forks, but trailed 24-15 at set point.
Kylie Solheim (Sr. S), who led the team in digs with 19 and assists with 45, aced a serve after an EGF service error. A kill from Sydney Anderson (Sr. MH) two points later brought Crookston to within five, down 24-19. The run ended with a mishandled ball awarding the Green Wave a 25-19 win.
“[East Grand Forks] was finding spots that we haven’t seen them hit before,” Stopa said. “So we weren’t adjusting very well to where they placed the ball.”
The Pirates managed to prevent another early deficit utilizing a kill from Jasmin Hanson (Jr. MH), an Anderson kill and two kills from Hailey Seaver (Sr. MH). A hitting error made the score 7-6 in favor of EGF and two additional kills from Anderson in the next four points kept Crookston down one at 9-8.
On the next serve, Seaver tied the set with an ace. The Green Wave, however, went on the attack and outscored the Pirates 5-0 to lead 14-9.
Crookston fought back to trail by three when Emma Boll (So. OH) stepped in and tallied consecutive aces. On the next point, Hefta blocked a mean EGF attack and the Pirates tied the set once again at 16-16.
The two teams, evenly matched, traded blows until Seaver put Crookston ahead 20-19 with a kill. The lead did not last long as the Green Wave quickly recovered with three straight points to grab a 22-19 lead. Three service errors in a row combined by each team kept EGF ahead 23-22 and East Side later closed out the victory 25-22.
“I don’t think they were doing anything too special, I think we just weren’t as in it as we could’ve been,” Sydney Anderson said. “Then we kind of got back into it and played our game.”
A different team came out for Crookston in set three. The Pirates hit with greater force, found holes in EGF’s defense and took advantage of the Green Wave’s mistakes.
The set started with a 7-1 run including kills from Rylee Solheim (Fr. OH) and Hefta and a block from Kylie Solheim.
Crookston built on their lead with kills from Seaver, Hefta and Anderson and held a massive 17-5 lead. Rylee Solheim contributed with another kill and the Pirates reinforced their lead at 20-6.
Much like the momentum switch between set two and three, another occurred after Crookston went up by 14. The Green Wave went on a 9-1 run and all of a sudden, the lead no longer felt safe.
The Pirates regrouped and outscored EGF 4-2 courtesy of an Anderson kill and a Hefta ace to win set three 25-17.
For Stopa, the change in play did not require a large adjustment.
“The girls decided that ball wasn’t going to hit the ground any more,” Stopa said. “They were just going. They weren’t thinking as hard. They were just moving the ball and swinging hard.”
Crookston had clearly found a groove. Hefta recorded an early block and Anderson notched a kill to put the Pirates up 5-1. Kasey Cwikla’s ace increased the lead to 8-3 and a hitting error by EGF propelled Crookston to a 6-2 lead.
Anderson credited the team’s increase in communication as a large contributor to the shift in play.
“We just, overall, started talking better and working harder,” Anderson said. “Once we started talking in the third set, we just started pushing and that really turned it on for us.”
Attempting to thwart a furious comeback, East Side came within three down 10-7 and kept their deficit at three down 14-11 despite two kills by Hefta, one from Cwikla and another from Seaver.
Mistakes by EGF, such as service and hitting errors, only fueled Crookston, who boasted a 17-13 lead. Just when it seemed the Pirates were primed for another win, a couple mistakes allowed the Green Wave to score four in a row and tie the set at 17-17.
The fourth set possessed the feeling of a winner-take-all. Neither team let up and the score remained deadlocked at 21-21. Hefta provided some distance in the score with a kill and a block in back-to-back points and Crookston sat two points away from forcing a fifth set.
Hefta then added another kill for good measure and a hitting error by EGF meant the match would need five to decide a winner after Crookston took the fourth 25-21.
At this point, the once distant hope of coming back to win became a very possible reality. Stopa felt it and the players felt it.
“They were having fun,” Stopa said. “They were ready to compete. They were going after every ball and then they were swinging hard. I think Sydney Anderson did a great job playing defense, blocking, communicating and just swinging. I thought some of Rachel’s hits didn’t go her way and she struggled to find her set tonight, but she kept swinging and she kept finding the court on the other side.”
The two opening set losses seemed ages ago and Crookston leapt out to a 3–0 lead behind a kill from Hefta. Another kill by Hefta increased the lead to 7-3 forcing the Green Wave to use a time out.
A break in the game did not halt Crookston’s rally as they moved ahead 10-4 with an extra kill by Hefta and one from Cwikla.
Seaver’s late kill gave the Pirates their 13th point and Seaver spelled goodnight with an attack that landed right on the line and sparked a mob scene on Crookston’s side of the court.
After the win, Anderson did not shy away from admitting accomplishing a comeback of this caliber felt slightly more special doing it on the road in East Grand Forks’ gym.
“Oh yeah,” Anderson said. “It makes it all the sweeter.”
The Pirates (4-9) stay on the road for a match in Warren on Tuesday, October 9 at 7:30 p.m.
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