November 9, 2018 at 2:42 p.m.

North Branch punches second straight ticket to state

North Branch punches second straight ticket to state
North Branch punches second straight ticket to state

Coming into the season, most figured it was a foregone conclusion that the North Branch volleyball team would make it back to the state tournament.

They finished second at state last year and returned most of that team in tact. But, despite a 22-4 record in the regular season, not everything was smooth along the way. The battled injuries, a couple of upset losses and another Mississippi 8 Conference runner up finish after dropping a five-setter to St. Michael-Albertville.

But, when it came to sections, everything went perfectly according to plan. After sweeping past Mora and Esko in the first two rounds, the Vikings crossed over to the northern half of the sub-section to take on Hermantown in the semifinals.

It was another breeze for the currently healthy Vikings. They took the first set 25-17, and that’s the closest Hermantown would get the whole time. North Branch won the second set 25-14 before punctuating the win over the fourth-seeded Hawks with a 25-15 finale.

Cianna Selbitschka led the Vikings with 18 kills despite a heavily taped and braced knee, and Lydia Langevin added 10 kills. Reagan Irons had seven kills on the night. Paige Sheehan had 31 kills for North Branch, as well as three service aces. Kylie Kline and Selbitschka led the defensive effort with 30 combined digs.

The win sent the Vikings to the Section 7AA championship against a familiar opponent in Greenway. The Raiders made it to the section title game last year, only to be thumped by North Branch. They were hoping for a different result this time around, but North Branch smothered that quickly.
Greenway took an early lead in the first set, but North Branch battled back to take the lead as the teams entered the teens. And then they pulled away, winning the first set 25-18 behind a varied offense and strong defense.

In the second set, North Branch continued their Section 7AA dominance with another win, this time putting together a complete 25-19 winning effort over Greenway for the second set.

In the third set, Greenway finally took a set, which is the first set North Branch has lost in sections the last two years. They got their big hitter going who North Branch had effectively shut down in the first two sets, and the Vikings just had trouble getting her out of the front row. “Claire Vekich is a very strong player and she just took over the third set and we couldn’t get going,” Head Coach Mike Selbitschka said. “But we made some adjustments for game four and the girls dug in and got the job done!”

The set loss really fired up the Vikings and they had their best set of the tournament in the fourth set. The jumped out to a big lead early and cruised to a 25-16 win to clinch their second straight trip to state and their third in four years.

Selbitschka led the offensive attack with 21 kills, Irons, who is only a sophomore, had 14 kills from her middle hitter position, and Langevin knocked down eight kills.

Sheehan had a ridiculous 43 assists, and Selbitschka and Kline combined for 33 digs. Sheehan, Emily Benedict and Langevin also formed a very nice block, each getting two solo blocks.

“The girls played well in sections,” Selbitschka said. “It was a pretty cool experience getting to see them earn another trip to state.”

The win set off a wild celebration, that now culiminates with the Vikings’ state tournament berth.

North Branch was seeded fourth this year with their 26-4 record, and they drew a familiar foe in Watertown-Mayer. They knocked the Royals out of the state tournament last year in the first round, and W-M will certainly be looking for revenge.

Despite last year’s deep state run to the title game gaining most of these girls a ton of exeprience on the big stage, Selbitschka is not counting on an easy road to the state title. “All of the competition seems to be quite close in our class this year,” he said. “We are really looking forward to it and hoping we can get past our first match against Watertown-Mayer to advance.”

The Royals were 24-6 on the year and are seeded fifth. The top seed went to Kasson-Mantorville, who is 30-2 on the year, and the likely opponent for NB if they beat Watertown-Mayer.

Concordia Academy out of Roseville is the second seed, Marshall, who the Vikings knocked out last year also, were seeded fourth. The unseeded teams are St. Cloud Cathedral, Belle Plaine and Park Rapids. Maple Lake, the team that beat North Branch for the state championship last year, did not qualify for the state tourney this year after graduating a majority of their state-winning team.

North Branch’s opening game against Watertown-Mayer will be on Thursday, November 8 at 5 p.m. on Court 2 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
Win or lose, they play again on Friday, November 9 at 5 p.m. at Xcel again. The court number would depend on a win or loss.


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