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Roncalli outlasts Miller for five-set victory

Aberdeen Roncalli’s Madelyn Bragg, right, reaches to hit the ball as Miller’s Ruby Carder, left, defends the net during Tuesday night’s match at the Roncalli High School gym. Bragg finished with a match-high 20 kills. Photo by John Davis taken 8/31/2021

Points away from victory on multiple occasions, Aberdeen Roncalli finally found a way to dispatch Miller Tuesday night.

The Cavaliers, who led the majority of the match, turned back one final Rustler rally for a 25-14, 25-20, 22-25, 25-27, 15-12 non-conference volleyball victory at Roncalli Gym.

“This is how it always is when we play Miller. We’re always in for a good match when we play with them,” said Roncalli coach Mandy Smid. “It’s a high mental game. Tonight it was definitely that way. I’m glad that the girls were able to work together and scrap it together at the end.”

Roncalli, which led for about 90 percent of the match, could never quite break Miller’s will until the very end.

The Cavaliers won the first two sets and appeared to be on the way to a sweep, leading 22-19 in the third. The Rustlers had other ideas. The visitors scored the final six points, the last three coming on ace serves by Abby Blake.

Roncalli then bolted out to an 11-4 lead in the fourth set and led 21-18 before Miller pieced together another rally, this time pulling out a 27-25 win.

The Cavaliers again looked like they had things in hand in the fifth, scoring the first five points and eventually holding a 10-5 advantage. However, Roncalli leaders Madelyn Bragg and Jeci Ewart found themselves on the bench on rotation changes and soon Miller had tied the score at 12-12.

A pair of Miller hitting errors gave Roncalli its only match point of the night and Hayley Schmidt took advantage of it with an ace serve to cap the win.

“Somehow, someway we got it done. We talked a lot about when we’re in those moments how are we going to rise to those occasions, and how are we going to push ourselves through?’ Smid said. “It can’t be sending over a hope and a prayer and free ball, that they’re going to make a mistake with it, because that’s just not going to work.”

Bragg, Roncalli’s top hitter, said it was difficult having to watch the match unfold without being on the floor.

“Watching from sidelines, especially in those (crucial) moments, it’s really hard to sit there and watch,” Bragg said. “You just have to have faith in your teammates.”

When asked what the mindset was heading to the fifth after losing two sets where they led, Bragg responded, “Finish. That was really it. Just finish, stay confident, be positive, don’t get down,” she said. “In games like this you can’t get in your own head. You have to stay positive.”

Bragg finished the match with 20 kills to go along with one solo block and four assists. Miller never had an answer for the dominant hitter.

“It was just a fun match to watch her play and to see her confidence grow throughout the years,” Smid said. “When you’re 6-foot-3 and you have some athleticism and are coordinated and able to see the court well like she does, it is hard to stop.”

The Cavaliers, 2-1 on the season, will now prepare for another battle when they host Redfield on Thursday night. The two teams have a history of some memorable matches.

“I think that as we go into Thursday night playing Redfield it’s probably going to be a (hard-fought) match again,” Smid said, “where we’re going to have to be able to figure out how to execute and clean up those unforced errors to keep that momentum and energy on our side.”

Serving: Miller 86-97 9 aces (Abbi Blake 25-26 4 aces Cynthia Ford 14-16 2 aces); Aberdeen Roncalli 95-110 12 aces (Jeci Ewart 13-14 4 aces, Jaidyn Feickert 28-29 3 aces, Hayley Schmidt 10-12 3 aces).

Hitting: Miller 128-167 37 kills (Ally Mullaney 32-42 17 kills, Ford 30-41 10 kills); Aberdeen Roncalli 114-138 43 kills (Madelyn Bragg 33-43 20 kills, Ewart 26-30 8 kills, Ella Hanson 30-38 8 kills).

Setting: Miller 175-178 37 assists (Tyra Gates 130-133 33 assists); Aberdeen Roncalli 143-143 43 assists (Olivia Hanson 143-143 43 assists).

Digs: Miller 51 (Payton Kilker 11, Ford 11, Jaden Werdel 9); Aberdeen Roncalli 169 (E. Hanson 37, Schmidt 34).

Blocks: Miller 3 solos 8 assists (Shaylee Anderberg 2 solos 3 assists, Tricia Lammers 2 assists); Aberdeen Roncalli 3 solos 8 assists (Bragg 1 solo 4 assists, Feickert 3 assists).

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