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Wolsey-Wessington edges Northwestern in five-set thriller

Wolsey-Wessington’s Leah Williams (11) celebrates winning the second set with teammates Mya Boomsma (6), Lainey Uttecht (20) and Mallory Miller, far right, during Thursday’s Class B match against Northwestern at the South Dakota State Championships at the Denny Sanford Premier Center in Sioux Falls. Photo by John Davis taken 11/17/2022

SIOUX FALLS – It doesn’t get any closer than this.

Wolsey-Wessington, playing in its first ever Class B State Volleyball Tournament, built a lead, lost it, and then found a way to defeat Northwestern in a five-set marathon Thursday afternoon at the Premier Center. The Warbirds saved two match points before pulling out a 25-19, 25-20, 14-25, 21-25, 19-17 victory.

“It was definitely a battle. I expected it to be,” said Wolsey-Wessington coach Lindy Uttecht. “It went to five the first time we played, also.”

The Warbirds set the tone early by winning the first two sets. Wolsey-Wessington pulled away from a 19-19 tie in the second set to grab the momentum.

That all changed in the next two sets as the Wildcats leveled the match.

“The first two sets we didn’t play very good defense. From the third set on, I thought our defense was right on point,” said Northwestern coach Nora Groft. “We did a much better job adjusting to their size and their shots.”

That set the stage for a dramatic fifth set that was tight the entire way. The Warbirds led 6-4 before Northwestern surged ahead for an 11-9 advantage.

Wolsey-Wessington had two match points at 14-12 before the Wildcats scored three straight to get a match point themselves. Each team had a match point following that before the Warbirds eventually put back-to-back points together to finalize the victory.

Members of the Wolsey-Wessington volleyball team, far left, celebrate as the ball falls between Northwestern’s Ashley Haven (4) and Ella Haven (3) to win the fifth set for the Warbirds 19-17 during their Class B match Thursday at the South Dakota State Championships at the Denny Sanford Premier Center in Sioux Falls. Photo by John Davis taken 11/17/2022

“I didn’t know if the last set was ever going to end,” Uttecht said. “It was very nerve wrecking, but I thought the girls did a good job staying focused.”

Uttecht said the squad had to adjust to a new setter after its regular setter was limited because of an injury.

In the end, Wolsey-Wessington’s size played a key role in the match, namely 6-foot-4 senior Mallory Miller, who also had a big match against the Wildcats last season as a member of the Aberdeen Christian squad.

“I thought they played good defense,” Groft said of the Warbirds. “Just trying to go around a 6-4 block, that hurt us last year in the post season and hurt us again this year. We’re just trying to do the best we what we’ve got.”

The Wildcats have plenty as Ella Haven pounded out a match-leading 30 kills. Ashley Haven contributed 17 kills on the afternoon.

Northwestern’s Ashley Haven (4) hits the ball past Wolsey-Wessington’s Taylor Horn (14) during Thursday’s Class B match at the South Dakota State Championships at the Denny Sanford Premier Center in Sioux Falls. Photo by John Davis taken 11/17/2022

“The first thing I’m thinking of is just over and in, and to score,” Ashley Haven said. “Then I’m thinking about the shots I can take and where to place the ball so we can get that point.”

Northwestern finished with 55 kills as a team, and would have had many more if not for the defense of the Warbirds, led by 29 digs from Leah Williams.

“Our defense is definitely the first step to our offense, making sure we get a good pass, making sure we stay aggressive,” Williams said. “We had to make sure we knew where the Havens were. We were telling them every time, ‘find them – find them.’ They’re everywhere. In the back row we had to make sure we were outside the block and get as many touches as we can.”

Mya Boomsma had 20 kills, and Miller and Williams 11 each for the Warbirds.

Wolsey-Wessington, 29-4 on the season, takes on defending State B champion Warner at 5 this evening in the semifinals. The Warbirds have enjoyed their first-state tourney experience so far.

“This is literally insane,” Williams said of the atmosphere. “Looking at the crowd and seeing thousands of people. I’m like this is so surreal.”

Groft was pleased with her team’s effort, despite coming up just short on the day.

“I’m so proud of them. They fought so hard,” Groft said. “They played with so much heart.”

It was that heart that allowed the Wildcats to claw their way back into the match following the two-set deficit.

“We had to bring up the energy a lot and just encourage each other,” Ashley Haven said. “Our defense, we really had to pick up a ton of those balls in the middle and once we started picking those up more it really helped us.”

Northwestern, 27-9, meets Freeman in consolation round action at 11:15 this morning.

Groft said her players will be looking forward to another state tournament match.

“We’re excited to be here,” she said. “This is a great experience for our kids.”

Serving: Wolsey-Wessington 7 aces (Leah Williams 4, Emree White 2, Mya Boomsma 1); Northwestern 3 aces (Payton Grandpre 2, Ashley Haven 1).

Hitting: Wolsey-Wessington 53 kills (Boomsma 20, Mallory Miller 11, Williams 11); Northwestern 55 (Ella Haven 30, A. Haven 17).

Setting: Wolsey-Wessington 48 assists (Payton Kemnitz 27, White 7, Taylor Horn 6); Northwestern 48 (Brooklinn Halvorson 43).

Digs: Wolsey-Wessington 89 (Williams 29, Lainey Uttecht 22, Boomsma 19); Northwestern 82 (Ella Boekelheide 24, Halvorson 20, Grandpre 15).

Blocks: Wolsey-Wessington 5 solo 4 assists (Miller 3 solo, Kailynn Dorris 1 solo 2 assists, Boomsma 1 solo 1 assist); Northwestern 4 solo 14 assists (E. Haven 3 solo 6 assists, Halvorson 1 solo 1 assist, Boekelheide 4 assists).

Records: Wolsey-Wessington 29-4; Northwestern 27-9.

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