September 29, 2011 at 10:08 a.m.
With a very experienced squad, the North Branch volleyball team is hoping this is the year they can make a deep run in sections.
The problem is that some of the teams they have to face in Section 7AAA are even more experienced and talented, for now, than they are, and they've already found two of them in Andover and now Elk River.
The game was a rematch of last year's section game in which North Branch topped Elk River 3-1 to end their season.
"Elk River is tough and we knew they were going to be that way out of the gate," North Branch head coach Hayley Lang said. "Elk River has very good flow and they are a quick team."
The Elks got some measure of revenge at North Branch this year. In the first set, North Branch had a commanding lead throughout and didn't allow Elk River to get very close in winning 25-17.
But, things went downhill after that set for the Vikings. Elk River ran off three straight set wins to win the match. The Elks won the second set 25-19, the third set 25-21 and the fourth set 25-17 to give the Vikings their first home loss on the season.
Lang thinks that the girls may have ran out of steam a little early after their dominating first set performance, and it's something the Vikings need to work on.
"It seems to feel our gals need to pace themselves better, and we need to implement skills after long rallies like we had against Elk River in practice more often," she said. "We are hoping to meet Elk River again in section play."
North Branch 3, Duluth Denfeld 0
Just two days after the tough loss to Elk River, the Lady Vikings had to travel up to Duluth for a road trip against the Hunters of Duluth Denfeld.
However, they didn't have a hangover from the Elk River loss, nor did the long drive affect them as they crushed the Hunters in the first two sets to really demoralize them.
"What great win on the road after a tough loss to Elk River," Lang said. "We were really preparing for the road trip as we also needed to think about the transition into our big home invitational."
The Vikes didn't think too far ahead though, as they took care of business with Denfeld early. They took the first set 25-14 and the second set 25-12. Denfeld never got any traction going against North Branch's aggressive offense. In the third set, Denfeld was able to keep it close, at least, but North Branch still prevailed with a 25-20 victory to end the set and get home early.
"We served very well against Denfeld," Lang explained. "We kept the ball in play and created offense when we needed it most."
North Branch Tournament
North Branch 2, St. Francis 0
The Vikings opened their home tournament with a bang, and closed it with a bang, but the middle was more of a dud than anything.
North Branch took on conference foe St. Francis in the first game of the tournament. The Saints feature junior Maggie Ewen, who is among the state leaders in kills and blocks and is an effective outside hitter.
It didn't matter to the Vikings though, as they were able to key in on Ewen and keep her at bay while launch their own offensive assault.
The Vikings won the first match of the set 25-20 in a tough match, but they were firing on all cylinders in the second set and downed the Saints 25-15. "Our match against St. Francis was a great battle," Lang said after the tourney. "They are tough, but we managed to communicate and set the pace of the game from the beginning."
Red Wing 2, North Branch 0
Things went awry for the Vikings in their second match of the day against Red Wing. Lang said the communication that was so prevalent in the first game of the day was nowhere to be found in the second game. "When our communication fails, it's really hard to create any momentum," she said.
Red Wing blasted the Vikings 25-17 in the first set, and although North Branch made a nice recovery in the second set, it was just too little, too late, as Red Wing won 26-24.
Roseville 2, North Branch 0
Although they picked up their momentum and were communicating well at the end of the Red Wing match, the Vikings had absolutely no carryover into their match against Roseville. They again had trouble communicating early, and they really struggled to let go of mistakes and move on to the next point.
It also didn't help that Roseville was the eventual champion of the tournament and was unbeaten on the day.
The Raiders topped the Vikes 25-13 in the first set that was over fairly quickly, and in the second set, North Branch battled back, but still lost 25-21.
"We had a hard time with defense and Roseville is too tough of an opponent to have our defense fail," Lang lamented after the match. "We made some adjustments and were able to create some offense in the second set again, but not enough."
North Branch 2, Moose Lake 0
After facing arguably the toughest team at the tournament in Roseville, the Vikings got a little reprieve in their last match of the day as they played arguably the weakest team in the tourney, Moose Lake-Willow River.
The Rebels had already lost to Esko, Warroad and Sartell-St. Stephen in straight sets on the day, and none of the matches were terribly close.
North Branch took advantage of the match up and ran through the Rebels 25-13 and 25-10.
"Moose Lake was great match for the Vikings. We were able to correct some of the mistakes which had been made in the second and third match of the day," Lang said. "We have some things to work through after Saturday. We need to focus on reading the opponents offense and making smarter hit selections in the front row."