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Northwestern caps season with fifth place win over Castlewood

Northwester’s Ella Haven, bottom right, kneels to dig out a serve as teammate Payton Grandpre looks on from behind while Ella Boekelheide, back left, watches during Saturday’s Class B fifth place match against Castlewood at the South Dakota State Volleyball Tournament at the Denny Sanford Premier Center in Sioux Falls. Photo by John Davis taken 11/19/2022

SIOUX FALLS – They opened the Class B State Volleyball Tournament with a bit of a shaky start, but the Northwestern Wildcats made up for it with a strong finish.

The Wildcats dominated Castlewood on the way to a 25-23, 25-13, 25-11 win during the fifth place match on Saturday afternoon at the Premier Center.

“I thought the last two days we played really well. We kind of played our game,” said Northwestern coach Nora Groft after her team dropped the first two sets to start the tourney on Thursday. “The first day it took us a while to kind of get going. They were still pretty nervous, but I thought overall, our young kids had a pretty good tournament.”

Those young kids took a few cues from the senior leaders on the squad who were determined to go out on top.

“Winning my last two games as a Wildcat was honestly a goal for me,” said setter Brooklinn Halvorson. “Obviously, I was really upset that we lost the first one, but I was just happy that we ended the last two games with a win.”

The Wildcats were determined to get Ella Haven one final kill before she concluded her career. They set to her a couple of different times before the senior pounded down one last spike on match point to end the contest.

“It felt great,” Haven said. “I really wanted that last kill. It just made it feel more complete.”

The match was close early on as the Warriors found a soft spot in the middle of the Northwestern defense and exploited it. However, that all changed following a break in the action.

“They were chunking some balls in the middle of the court,” Groft said. “I called time out and said, ‘Hey who’s going to get that ball?’ And Ella Boekelheide just said, ‘I got it.’ And she did. She just plugged up that middle and said I’ll take care of it, so that way the outsides can get transitioned out.”

Once that happened the offense dried up for Castlewood.

Meanwhile, Northwestern got it’s offense rolling with a quick attack.

“I think we kind of got our offense going fast and trying to beat their big block,” Groft said. “They’re a little bit bigger than we are so we decided to go even faster through the middle and out to the pin.”

Of course, it takes initial passes to generate an offense and the Wildcats got that worked out as well, finding Haven who finished with a match-high 29 kills.

“Right away our passing was not quite on where we needed it to be,” Haven said, “but we worked on that and kept that under control, and that really helped us get back in the groove.”

Ashley Haven contributed 13 kills in the victory.

Halvorson finished with 40 set assists and also had a pair of over-the-head dumps with her back to the net.

“I just can feel where the blockers are with having so much experience with being on the floor. I’ve learned to watch where my blockers are,” Halvorson said. “Watching (Castlewood) play (Friday) I kind of noticed that spot was more open, especially if I got led more towards the outside. If I went back it was open, so just knowing that really helped.”

Northwestern’s Brooklinn Halvorson, center, sets the ball as teammates Ashley Haven (4) and Ella Haven (3) look on during Saturday’s Class B fifth place match against Castlewood at the South Dakota State Volleyball Tournament at the Denny Sanford Premier Center in Sioux Falls. Photo by John Davis taken 11/19/2022

The victory capped a 29-9 season for the Wildcats, who featured a variety of underclassmen in their starting lineup throughout the season.

“I’m so proud of where this team came,” Ella Haven said. “We were playing with so many younger girls and I used to be that younger girl. I can’t even imagine how they feel even just being here. It has to be such a great feeling.”

The two seniors both had milestone seasons for the Wildcats with Haven eclipsing 1,000 career kills and Halvorson 2,000 career assists.

“They both mean a lot for our program. They’ve come so far,” Groft said. “When Ella Haven was a freshman we just put her in the middle between Sydney Schell and Maddie Groft and said don’t touch a ball. To see her have this monster senior season and just take these young kids and say, he we’re going to go win two matches at the state tournament, it’s just super rewarding. Brooklinn is the hardest worker we have. She’s in the gym getting touches. You have to have a setter that wants to get hands on a ball.”

While the two leaders have left their mark on the storied program, there are others waiting in the wings, some who got their first state tournament experience this past weekend.

“They’re going to be really tough to replace, but we say that every year,” Groft said of Haven and Halvorson. “I’m sure I’ve got some young kids that pretty excited about getting an opportunity next year.”

Serving: Castlewood 7 aces (Madeline Horn 4, Lyndsey Archer 2, Gracie Haug 1); Northwestern 5 aces (Payton Grandpre 1, Tara Blachford 1, Ella Haven 1, Ashley Haven 1, Ella Boekelheide 1).

Hitting: Castlewood 25 kills (Presley Knecht 8, Mackenzie Everson 7, Horn 6); Northwestern 53 (E. Haven 29, A. Haven 13, Brooklinn Halvorson 6).

Setting: Castlewood 24 assists (Haug 23); Northwestern 50 (Halvorson 40).

Digs: Castlewood 58 (Everson 13, Kailyn Larson 11, Haug 13); Northwestern 60 (Boekelheide 17, A. Haven 15, Halvorson 13).

Blocks: Castlewood 1 solo 2 assists (Emerson Carter 1 solo, Knecht 1 assist, Everson 1 assist); Northwestern 1 solo 4 assists (E. Haven 1 solo 1 assist, Adriana Ratigan 2 assists, Halvorson 1 assist).

Records: Castlewood 23-9; Northwestern 29-9.

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