Crookston swept Red Lake Falls 25-19, 25-19, 25-21.

RED LAKE FALLS - The Crookston Pirates seem to find comfort away from the confines of their home gym. While in Red Lake Falls, the Pirates won the second set for the first time this season and swept their first match of the season in a 3-0 (25-19, 25-19, 25-21) victory over the Eagles.

    “We stayed consistent,” Head Coach Ashley Stopa said. “Our communication stayed, our passing stayed, our aggressiveness stayed. We didn’t have the ‘let’s go on autopilot’ like we had before.”

    The Pirates (2-2) came out guns blazing in set number one. Two kills by Rachel Hefta (Sr. OH/MB) and a single kill from Kasey Cwikla (Jr. OH/MB) put Crookston ahead quickly 5-0.

    Hefta led the team in kills with 12, a category she has led in three of the four games this season. Her 34 kills on the year also tops the Pirates’ roster.

    “She swang pretty hard,” Stopa said. “She did some good blocks. She accepted a leadership role tonight. She was talking about where everyone was and what we needed to do such as communicate.”

    Two balls hit into the net by the Pirates, two consecutive kills by Red Lake Falls and miscommunication cut into Crookston’s lead at 9-8. Able to limit the damage, the Pirates responded to the RLF rally with three straight points that included a kill from Rylee Solheim (Fr. OH).

    The Eagles retaliated by rattling off three straight points to trail 12-11. Red Lake Falls continued their surge outscoring Crookston 6-3 to take a 17-15 lead capped off with an ace.

    Trailing by two, Hefta made her presence known from the outside. The senior tallied another kill and added an ace in the Pirates’ 6-0 run en route to a 21-17 lead.

    “[Red Lake Falls] just had a lot of open areas that I was able to get to really fast,” Hefta said. “I had really good sets from Kylie [Solheim] and KG [Katelynn Genereux] so it was a lot of good teamwork together. I think that Dani Boyle had a really good passing time today and [Hailey] Seaver hit a lot of good spots in front row.”

    At set point, Rylee Solheim made a point-saving play extending out of bounds to keep the volley alive. Crookston cleared the ball and Red Lake Falls proceeded to mishandle it granting the Pirates a 25-19 set one victory.

    Set two featured a different start for Crookston. The Eagles took a 4-2 lead and the Pirates’ only points came from mistakes made by Red Lake Falls. One more miscue, a service error by RLF, put the offense back in gear and helped Crookston to a 9-1 run and an 11-5 lead. The run included kills from three different players: Hefta, Hailey Seaver (Sr. MB) and Emma Boll (So. OH).

    Crookston survived a 6-1 run and closed out the set 25-19 with a block by Seaver to clinch a 2-0 advantage.

    According to Hefta, the key to winning the second set for the first time in 2018 came down to the players conversing on the court.

    “We just really needed to talk,” Hefta said. “We really needed to be able to know where each other were. We needed to be able to work as a team more cohesively. It was good.”

    Stopa, who began stressing the importance of communication in preseason practices, echoed Hefta’s statement noting her team's growing familiarity with one another.

    “They’re getting comfortable and they’re trusting each other,” Stopa said. “They’re becoming a team that everybody is going to go take care of their spot and their ball and they’re going to hustle when it’s not in a good spot.”

    The offense stayed in rhythm for the Pirates to kick off the third set. Katelynn Genereux (Sr. S) recorded an ace followed by kills from Hefta and Seaver to create a 6-4 lead.

    Red Lake Falls played their most competitive match and earned their biggest lead of the night at 14-11. The lead, however, did not last long. Kylie Solheim (Sr. S), who led the team in assists with 26, played attacker and sent the ball over the net in desperation which somehow found the ground on RLF’s side to bring the Pirates within one.

    A ball hit out of bounds eight points later tied the game at 17 apiece and a hit into the net put Crookston ahead at 18-17. Dani Boyle (Jr. L) doubled the lead with a kill of her own one point later and added another kill to match the Pirates’ largest lead of the set at 21-18.

    Boyle’s pair of kills added to an impressive night in which she led the team in digs with 13.

    “[Dani] has an amazing arm swing,” Stopa said. “Her platform was great tonight and she gets a lot of kills when she swings her arms. She’s kind of our hidden weapon.”

    Cwikla hit one to the court and each team traded service errors to create a 23-20 scenario favoring Crookston. Seaver smacked a ball that deflected off a pair of RLF hands and the Pirates swept the Eagles with a 25-21 set three win.

    In the young season so far, the Pirates accumulated two wins, both of which came on the road. If playing in opposing gyms gives her team an advantage, Stopa sees no problem playing the rest of the season outside the Crookston city limits.

    “I think they have more time maybe at home to think about it,” Stopa said. “Cause it’s their home and they want to defend it. I’d be alright if we just played all the games on the road. We don’t have that many more home games, so we’ll see."

    Back at the .500 mark, Crookston will go for their first home win against Sacred Heart on Thursday, September 6 at 7:15 p.m.

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