November 4, 2010 at 10:20 a.m.
With their 16-10 regular season record, the Vikings volleyball team earned the sixth-seed in the stacked Section 7AAA.
Because of that, they had to basically play a play-in game against 11th seeded Duluth Central.
The Trojans weren't much of a distraction for North Branch, though. "We needed to come out and start strong against Duluth in order to set the tone for the match," Head Coach Kari Francis said of the Vikes' gameplan. "We did what we needed and sustained our focus and intensity for the entire match."
The Vikings were never really challenged in the match, sweeping the sets 25-15, 25-13 and 25-20.
"We were led in the front row by our middles," Francis said. Jessica Merchant had 11 kills on the night and Tayler Fertig had 10. Junior Jessica Lemmerman added 11 kills from the outside.
"We played solid defense and serve-received consistently all night," Francis said at the conclusion of the match.
North Branch 3, Elk River 1
Despite being the third seed, and despite beating North Branch on the exact same court just weeks earlier, the Elks were no match for an intense and focused Viking squad.
"Even though we didn't win the regular season game with them, we knew that we could be successful when given another opportunity," Francis mentioned. "We focused on defense and keyed on their most dominant hitter, Jessica Grill.
North Branch won the first two sets fairly easily, dominating Elk River in a 25-18 win and 25-17 win. "We came out confident in our abilities and played to win. Game one and two, we came out hungry and took control of both games early," Francis said.
But the Elks, like good teams do, responded in the third set and won 25-19. Francis said the Vikings played well, but they just made a few too many hitting mistakes, and it gave Elk River some momentum to seize the lead and never give it back.
In game four, the Vikes took an early lead 11-4 but one of the Elks dominant servers got hot as they reclaimed the lead at 11-12.
It was back and forth the rest of the match until Morgan Leadens started serving when it was 23-21 in favor of Elk River. Leadens served two aces to tie the match at 23. In the last two points, Leadens served tough to keep the Elks out of their system and the NB defense did the rest.
"It was a great victory for North Branch volleyball," Francis said. "Since the game we played them in the regular season, we have gone 11-1 -- we figured out what it will take to win as a group, and took control of the games."
With the victory, North Branch moved on to play second-seeded Duluth East in the semi-finals. They played in Duluth East on Wednesday for a chance to face the winner of Andover/Anoka, the other semi-final.
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