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Knights edge Hitchcock-Tulare in five-set thriller

Aberdeen Christian’s Mary Fites, left, tips the ball as Hitchcock-Tulare’s Ella Johnson defends the net during Tuesday night’s match at the Aberdeen Christian School gym. Christian won the match 15-13 in the fifth. Photo by John Davis taken 9/14/2021

In a match full of twists and turns, Aberdeen Christian found a way to finish Tuesday night.

The Knights built a two-set lead, watched it disappear, and then rallied in the final set to turn back Hitchcock-Tulare 25-20, 25-20, 19-25, 17-25, 15-13 in non-conference volleyball action at the Aberdeen Christian Gym.

“The girls battled. I told them in that fifth set we’re not going to win this unless we do it as a team, because there was a lot of individual play and that doesn’t work against teams,” said Christian coach Maggie Jett. “I was proud of them. They came together and managed to pull it out.”

The Knights grabbed the opening set, overcoming a 19-13 deficit by scoring nine straight points. Mary Fites played a key role in the surge with four ace serves.

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Christian pulled away from a 12-12 tie to claim the second set by a five-point margin as well.

“Our ball control wasn’t as crisp as it usually is. We kind of felt like we let set one kind of go,” said Hitchcock-Tulare coach Jordan Opp. “We let them come back and nip us at the end there. We just got sloppy with the ball.”

The Patriots refused to go away, though. They were the ones who pulled away to win the third set, and then controlled the fourth set to tie the match at 2-2.

The momentum wasn’t exactly on Christian’s side at that stage.

“We were a little bit down,” said Christian senior Hanna Miller. “We were like, dang, we gave up two sets, but we kind of put our heads to the grindstone and just grinded it out.”

The Knights trailed 3-1 to start the fifth, but surged ahead 12-9 as Miller had three kills to fuel the rally.

Christian led 14-11 before the visitors pulled to within one, but the Knights scored the final point of the evening to pull out the win.

“The game was not the prettiest one in the books,” Jett said, “but the girls got to learn some adversity and how to get through it as a team.”

A key factor in the match was Christian’s defense which racked up 120 digs on the evening.

“Hats off to them. They had some great defense,” Opp said. “I know we had one down literally, they brought it way back in.”

That defense is something the Knights have worked on in practice. The results are paying dividends.

“Our girls were digging. They were low on defense,” Jett said. “We’ve really been working on reading hitters and getting under those balls.”

That defense was put the test by Katelynn Schroeder. The Hitchcock-Tulare freshman finished with 18 kills and two aces to go along with 19 digs and 9 total blocks.

“We’re a young squad only having two starters from last year returning, but we’re gelling,” Opp said. “We’re coming together.”

Miller finished 18 kills, three aces and three blocks to lead the Knights. She also provided some encouragement for her teammates.

“I try to keep my nerves to the low, because that doesn’t really help anything” she said. “I try to encourage my teammates. We’ll get it done.”

That motivation was noticed by Jett.

“I was proud to see her step up,” Jett said. “She really led the team with her enthusiasm tonight, keeping everybody up.”

Fites finished with 17 kills, four aces and 21 digs.

The Knights, who improved to 5-1 on the season, now take on the top-rated Class B team Wolsey-Wessington on Thursday in Wolsey.

“We’re just going to prep for them, fine tune everything and we’ll be ready,” Miller said. “We’ll give them a good match.”

Serving: Hitchcock-Tulare 90-102 6 aces (Katelynn Schroeder 19-20 2 aces, Madison Hofer 18-20); Aberdeen Christian (Mary Fites 19-22 4 aces, Kaylee Block 14-17 3 aces, Hanna Miller 15-20 3 aces).

Hitting: Hitchcock-Tulare 139-151 34 kills (Schroeder 49-53 18 kills, Hofer 34-39 8 kills); Aberdeen Christian 123-149 49 kills (Miller 36-40 18 kills, Fites 38-48 17 kills).

Setting: Hitchcock-Tulare 145-148 31 assists (Shandi Chasing Hawk 121-123 29 assists); Aberdeen  Christian (Kaylee Block 129-129 36 assists, Joy Rohrbach 18-18 5 assists).

Digs: Hitchcock-Tulare 76 (Schroeder 19, Hofer 19); Aberdeen Christian 120 (Rohrbach 29, Fites 21)

Blocks: Hitchcock-Tulare 6 solos 8 assists (Schroeder 5 solos 4 assists, Chasing Hawk 4 assists); Aberdeen Christian 4 solos 2 assists (Mallory Miller 2 solos 2 assists, H. Miller 1 solo 2 assists).

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