9/27/2012 9:39:00 AM North Branch on the heels of NSC leaders
Annamarie Zack concentrates on a serve last week during the NB Tournament.
By JEFF NORTON
North Branch 3, St. Francis 1 Adversity is something that can cripple a high school athlete or it can really bring out the young warrior in them. The North Branch volleyball team faced their adversity last week and rose to the occasion. After getting swept by St. Francis in the championship of their home tournament on Saturday, Sept. 15, the Vikings had all the reason to roll over and let the Saints walk over them when they traveled to St. Francis three days later on Tuesday, Sept. 18. Backed into a corner, North Branch responded with its biggest bite of the year. The Vikings grabbed a first set win against the Saints, closing out the match at 25-18 before St. Francis could make a late run. In the second set, North Branch did what they had been struggling with all year, and that’s win the close set.
The two North Suburban Conference teams battled back and forth, but it came down to who could make the plays at the end of the set. That advantage went to North Branch and they took a 2-0 lead when they won the second set 25-22. In the third set, they reverted back to their problems with close matches. St. Francis, riding big hitter Maggie Ewen, was able to take a late lead and then finish North Branch off for a 26-24 win to cut it to a 2-1 lead for NB. Not only did the Vikes lose the set, they lost senior captain Jessica Merchant for the rest of the game with an ankle injury. Sophomore Katy Trunk, who has been a part of the rotation at times this year, stepped in seamlessly and started to swat away in Merchant’s place. The Vikings’ resiliency was evident as they would not allow themselves to lose this match. They rebounded in the fourth set with a close win of their own, finishing the 3-1 win with a 25-23 victory in the deciding set. “This was a huge win for the Vikings on the road,” Head Coach Hayley Lang said.
“We had just taken a loss to the Saints on Saturday in our home tournament, and really felt we played well but had more to give. Monday’s practice was spent on a lot of prep for Tuesday, and the players and I decided to go with a secondary line-up. The kids were amazing, they really laid everything out on the court, and risked everything for the win.” Taylor Spence, who had been setting at times this year, performed well as an outside hitter Lang said. “That’s really not a position she has been playing prior,” the coach noted. “And she came up huge.” North Branch 3, Robbinsdale Cooper 0 With a renewed energy and confidence after downing St. Francis, the Vikings breezed past the Robbinsdale Cooper Hawks on Thursday, Sept. 20. From the opening swing, the Hawks were overmatched on the court as North Branch swept them 25-14, 25-11, 25-7. “With a week on the road it was great to get another win in the conference,” Lang said. “We played very well as a team, and pushed really hard to get them out of system, with tough serves, and a lot of well driven balls from the back row.
“The ladies pushed really hard to make sure every ball we put over has to be a tough ball to return. Our players have really stepped up and taken on their roles in all aspects.” There’s a dogfight atop the North Suburban Conference with Totino-Grace, Benilde-St. Margaret’s and Chisago Lakes all unbeaten and in first place. North Branch is on their tail with only one loss in the conference. The Vikings take on Spring Lake Park and Fridley in conference games this week, and both of them sit near the bottom of the NSC standings with SLP at 1-3 and Fridley at 2-3. The Vikings will close the week with a trip to Duluth East for a 12-team tournament up north.