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October 18, 2018

11/17/2017 10:54:00 AM
Vikes' title dreams shattered by Maple Lake, finish second at state
The Hadrava sisters provided a solid block for the North Branch Vikings, but Maple Lake was just a bit too much in the state championship game.
The Hadrava sisters provided a solid block for the North Branch Vikings, but Maple Lake was just a bit too much in the state championship game.
The Irish celebrated their second straight state championship by rushing the court after match point.
The Irish celebrated their second straight state championship by rushing the court after match point.

Expectations were certainly high for the North Branch volleyball team going into the state tournament, but the way they handled their first two opponents was a surprise, to say the least.

Third seeded North Branch took it to Watertown-Mayer in a three set sweep to open the state tournament, winning 25-20, 25-23 and 25-20.

In their second round match, the Lady Vikes faced off against second-seeded Marshall, a team that had only really lost to elite Class AAA schools on the year. This was supposed to be the litmus test to see if North Branch could hang with the very top level AA teams. The Vikings passed the test so convincingly that   a state title seemed well within their grasp. They launched blitzkrieg on the Marshall defense and dispatched of the Tigers in three sets, winning 25-16, 25-10 and 25-21, extending their postseason set win streak to 18.

The win set up a showdown with unbeaten Maple Lake, who had swept their way to the finals also. The Irish won last year’s Class AA title and sported a 44 match win streak heading into the state title game. Their roster features 11 seniors and two all state hitters.

North Branch started out well, going up 2-0 on two errors by the Irish attackers. Maple Lake came back to score three of the next four points, but North Branch was not intimidated. They went from being tied 3-3 to scoring four of the next five points, eventually building a three point lead at 9-6.

NB’s next serve sailed out of bounds to cap off five straight service errors between the two teams, and that’s when Maple Lake went on a run. They scored four points in a row to grab their first lead of the match at 10-9. But, North Branch answered with a run of their own, which would become a running theme for the night. The Vikings got big kills from Katelyn Berg and Cianna Selbitschka, sandwiched between a Maple Lake error, and the Vikings led 12-10 halfway through the first set.

Maple Lake’s championship pedigree seemed to help them stay calm and collected as they rattled off six of the next seven points, grabbing a three point lead at 16-13. That was the beginning of the end for North Branch in the first set. Despite three kills by Selbitschka and a couple from Maddie Hadrava, Maple Lake began to pull away, eventually winning the set 25-18, scoring the last four points when the Vikes had gotten the match to 21-18.

They had a great outside hitter in Linsey Rachel putting kills down on the court, but what the Vikings began to struggle with late in that opening set was Maple Lake’s superb defense. Their two middle hitters, Kaleigh Beehler at 6’1” and Brynn Paumen at 6’2”, provided a difficult block on defense. That forced errors by the Vikings that they haven’t made all year. "Our passing was still very good, We did serve tough, but just had too many errors," Head Coach Mike Selbitschka said. "They had a great block, unlike the other teams we played, and played incredible defense!  They also had a bit more fire power than us."

The second set played out in a similar fashion. Maple Lake actually grabbed an early lead over North Branch, but when they were up 10-7, North Branch got a kill from Maddie Hadrava, an ace from Berg, an error by the Irish and another Maddie Hadrava kill to pull ahead by a point at 11-10. The Vikings continued their run, scoring on kills from Hadrava and Emily Benedict and another Maple Lake error. This gave North Branch a 14-11 lead and sent Maple Lake coach Marty Kiebel scrambling for a timeout.

Whatever they said in their huddle, it worked. Maple Lake scored the next seven points, a tough feat in rally scoring, and went from being on the ropes to totally in control. The run deflated the North Branch momentum, and the teams mostly traded points throughout the set until the Irish wrapped up the set victory 25-19.

In the third set, North Branch again held a late lead at 16-14, but Maple Lake scored the next four points to take control of the set. They would eventually win the set 25-21, and the championship match.

"I don't believe they made many adjustments for the late runs, they just continued to play aggressively on offense and dug most of our hits. We also saw they began to really key on Cianna, so we did all we could to spread our offense around, too many errors, not enough power or efficiency.  We also either missed or hit their blockers too much as we tried to use them," the coach said. "Overall, I believe our girls left it all out there and Maple Lake was just the better team, and I appreciate that good competition and congratulate them on their success."

Haley Hadrava, Sophie Linder and Cianna Selbitschka were all named to the All Tournament Team. Selbitschka led the whole tournament in kills with 67 in her three games. She edged out Kasson-Mantorville's Peyton Suess, who had 64 kills.

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