Crookston shut out WAO 25-11, 25-17, 25-23.
WARREN - Crookston came in fresh off a 3-2 come-from-behind win against East Grand Forks and carried the momentum into Warren where the Pirates swept the Warren-Alvarado-Oslo Ponies 3-0 (25-11, 25-17, 25-23).
The Pirates (5-9) controlled set one early and maintained momentum throughout the set’s entirety. It started with a 9-2 run which featured a pair of kills from Rachel Hefta (Sr. MH), who scored 19 on the night, and a couple mistakes from WAO.
The Ponies’ offense did not feature hard-hit balls and the Pirates came in aware of how to adjust accordingly.
“We knew that they weren’t very strong hitters so we knew to be ready for tips,” Rylee Solheim (Fr. OH) said.
With the assistance of more Pony lapses and a kill from Hailey Seaver (Sr. MH), the Pirates extended their lead to 13-5. WAO responded with their strongest run of the set and crept back into contention only trailing 13-9.
A hitting error ended the Ponies’ offensive stretch and Crookston rode the switch in possession all the way to an 8-0 run and a 21-9 lead. A kill and block by Seaver played a role in Crookston’s surge. Seaver also contributed 17 digs along with Kylie Solheim (Sr. S).
WAO mustered two more points and Hefta closed out the set with back-to-back kills to help Crookston to a 25-11 win.
“We have big hitters that swing so we were just ready to mix it up, make sure everybody touched the ball and swing,” Head Ashley Stopa said. “When we swing, good things happen.”
Once again, the Pirates jumped out to an early lead in set two. Hefta recorded another kill as did Rylee Solheim and Crookston led 6-1. Two additional Hefta kills did its part to trade points with the Ponies and the lead stayed at 10-5.
The Pirates stayed ahead by five at 13-8, but watched the lead quickly vanish as WAO scored four in a row to only trail 13-12. Seaver ended the threat with a kill and Hefta provided reinforcements to increase the lead back to five at 17-12.
WAO got as close as four down 17-13, but Crookston let them no closer with the help of kills from Kasey Cwikla (Jr. OH) and Sydney Anderson (Sr. MH). A service error by the Ponies ended the set and Crookston won 25-17.
Unlike the previous two sets, the third offered a closer affair. The Ponies went ahead 2-1 for only their second lead all match and, much like the previous occurrence, this advantage left in a hurry. Hefta tallied two kills and Crookston regained the lead at 5-4.
Hitting errors, mishandled balls and a pair of Seaver kills put distance between the two squads and Crookston went on a 9-2 run to lead 13-6.
The Pirates led 16-10 when the Ponies put together a furious comeback and tied the match at 16-16. The 6-0 run finally concluded with a service error. Each team took turns putting points on the board, but Crookston still held the advantage with a 21-20 lead.
“We’re used to runs this season,” Stopa said. “So they’ve done a good job looking at each other and deciding how they need to fix it on the court to end the run.”
Looking to complete the sweep, Seaver and Rylee Solheim recorded back-to-back kills for a 23-20 lead. Crookston held match point for four serves and eventually edged out the Ponies 25-23 after a mishandled ball by WAO.
Rylee Solheim’s point played a critical role in finishing off the Ponies and although the freshman playing among juniors and seniors admitted to feeling nerves, the outside hitter credited her teammates for easing the jitters.
“I was really nervous at the beginning of the season and I still get nervous,” Solheim said. “But I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable and all the girls are really welcoming and fun.”
After starting the season 2-9, Crookston’s record now sits at 5-9 and Stopa noted strides since the beginning of the year.
“They’ve learned to compete,” Stopa said. “I think they like when they have fun and they win and they want to keep that going. The beginning of the season wasn’t quite what we were hoping for. I think finishing strong is huge.”
The Pirates look to extend their win streak to four when they return home for Senior Night against Climax-Fisher on Monday, October 15 at 7:30 p.m.
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