November 15, 2018 at 2:30 p.m.
Despite the challenges, uphill battles and crazy rolls and bumps of the 2018 state tournament, the North Branch Vikings made good on that laser focus, winning the state title with a 3-2 thriller over Marshall on Saturday, November 10. The win gave North Branch their first ever state title in volleyball, and the school it’s first team state championship since 1966.
Their route to get to the state title game was as brutal as they could imagine, going five sets in the opener against Watertown-Mayer after losing the first two, and then going five sets with top-seeded Kasson-Mantorville and their Miss Volleyball finalist Peyton Suess, but North Branch persevered through all those challenges and came out on top of the Class AA field.
North Branch 3, Watertown Mayer 2
North Branch drew the Royals in the first round for the second straight year, and although the final result was the same as last year, the journey was much tougher. In 2017, North Branch swept WM easily before moving on, but the Royals took the first two sets against NB in 2018.
The first set was marred by nine service errors for the Vikings, mistakes that didn’t hurt them as much in the regular season, but are magnified in the tourney. “We can’t just give a team like that pillow soft serves, but we had to get more consistent with our serving,” Head Coach Mike Selbitschka said after the game.
Despite the bevy of errors, North Branch fought back from down 21-15 to take the lead at 22-21, but Mayer took the next three points to retake the lead. North Branch was able to push it to extra points, but the Royals won 27-25.
In the second set, North Branch played much better, but Mayer was up to the task, keeping a decent lead throughout. The Vikings trimmed it to 19-17 at one point, but Mayer scored the next two points to stretch it back out. Macy Brodin served the Vikings back into it by grabbing three straight points and trimming the lead to 24-23, but Mayer got a big kill to end the set at 25-23 and take a commanding 2-0 lead.
Cianna Selbitschka, North Branch’s All State outside hitter is normally reserved on the court outside of her celebrations after winning points, but when the Vikings went down big, she became noticeably more vocal and was really trying to pump her team up in between points. “The crowd just got me going and I knew if we fought and didn’t give up that we could come back,” she said.
In the third set, North Branch came out knowing their season was on the line. Selbitschka and Lydia Langevin, the two big outside hitters for NB, took over and staked North Branch an early lead. With a 15-10 lead, the Vikings completely took over, scoring five of the next six points to go up 20-11. Despite a late flurry by Mayer, North Branch ended by winning the set 25-20.
“It’s nice to have two big hitters on the outside like them,” Coach Selbitschka said. “Sometimes when we are chasing balls out of system, it can be tough to get points, but they take out the garbage and get us a lot of extra points.”
The fourth set was the big momentum swing. The Vikings took a slim lead early in the set and kept it until an 11-11 tie. At that point, two kills by Selbitschka, a Mayor error and a Paige Sheehan ace put the lead up to four at 15-11 as the Vikes tried to separate themselves. But, Mayer wanted to end it in this set, as they scratched back to tie the game at 17-17 after a huge kill by Vanessa Schroeder.
The game stayed within a point for the next run, with Selbitschka guiding the Vikings to a 23-23 tie, but the next rotation brought her to the back row, which limits her abilities as a big hitter. However, Langevin, a senior, stepped up in a big way. She got a kill to put the Vikes up 24-23. After one more Mayer point, Langevin crushed two more points down to seal the set win for the Vikings at 26-24 and push the match to a third set.
“I’ve always been taught to stay humble, and I recognize that those kills don’t happen without my teammates and my coaches and I’m just glad I was in position to make some plays,” Langevin said after the match.
“I’m going to give her some credit here,” Coach Selbitschka said. “Despite the magnitude of the moments, she didn’t get careful. She made the right plays and we needed in that moment.”
Mayer was clearly demoralized by the loss and North Branch pounced on that in the fifth set. Lizzie Gladitsch and Sheehan opened up the serving for North Branch got the Vikings a 6-1 lead in the race to 15. The Royals got to within three at 9-6, but then committed two costly errors before the Vikings eventually closed out the comeback with a 15-8 set win.
Selbitschka ended the match with a ridiculous 34 kills and 31 digs. Langevin had 16 kills, Sheehan ha 54 set assists, and Reagan Irons had four kills and six blocks. Kylie Kline had 21 digs from her libero spot.
North Branch 3, Kasson-Mantorville 2
After the win over Mayer, the Vikings moved on to take on top-seeded Kasson-Mantorville. The KoMets were 31-2 heading into the game, with their only losses to the Class AAA state champions (Champlin Park) and the Class A state champions (Minneota).
North Branch dug themselves a hole again, starting out very slowly against Kasson. They were down 15-5 at one point, as the KoMets rattled off eight consecutive points to blow open what was a 7-5 game. Kasson-Mantorville eventually won the set 25-20, but it was nearly academic at 24-17.
In the second set, the Vikings repaid the favor to the KoMets. North Branch had a slight lead at 11-9 but back-to-back KoMet errors, an ace by Gladtisch and a kill by Selbitschka extended North Branch’s lead to 15-9 and they outpaced Kasson the rest of the way, winning the set 25-20 to even the match at 1-1.
In the third set, Macy Brodin showed her serving chops again. The junior gave the KoMets two tough serves to open, and one resulted in a Selbitschka kill and the other in a KM error. Then, Brodin sniped two aces in a row before getting Kasson out of system two more times, resulting in kills by Emily Benedict and Selbitschka. When the dust settled and KM got their first point, it was 6-1 and North Branch was well on their way to a great set. They didn’t take their foot off the gas, either. The closest the KoMets got was four points at 7-3, but then North Branch went on a 18-8 run to end the set in a 25-11 blowout, putting them just one set away from the state championship game.
Of course, it wasn’t going to be that easy, however. The two teams locked horns again in the fourth set and it was fairly even throughout. North Branch was behind, but within striking distance at 18-16, but Kasson-Mantorville won seven of the last eight points to win 25-17, forcing a fifth set.
Like what happened with most of North Branch’s sets, whoever got the early lead usually held on. The Vikings grabbed an 8-4 lead in the early going on three Selbitschka kills and four KM errors. The KoMets used up a lot of energy battling back to tie the game at 10-10, and when they got there, Selbitschka promptly put down to giant spikes to give NB the 12-10 lead. The Vikings held the rest of the way, finishing the set out at 15-13 on a Selbitschka kill, assisted by Haley Hadrava. The set win finished off another comeback for the Vikes and sent them to the state championship match up against Marshall.
Selbitschka had another monster game, with 29 kills. Langevin had eight and the Vikings battled their way to the state title game.
North Branch 3, Marshall 2
In following what was working for them in this particular tournament, the Vikings dropped the first set to Marshall in the state title game on Saturday. They committed seven early errors to allow the Tigers to get out to an 11-4 lead. The Vikes took their time chipping away, but eventually retook the lead at 21-20, but when they use so much energy trying to comeback, finishing becomes a bit tougher, and Marshall seized the opportunity, scoring the next two points. A kill by Irons tied it at 23-23 again, but NB dropped the last two points to give Marshall the opening win.
The second set looked like it would be a carbon copy of the first. North Branch committed two errors to start the set before Marshall rifled down three kills. Erica Jones of Marshall capped the run off with an ace, and before fans could blink, NB was down 6-0.
Luckily, Sheehan had a nice serving run in her. After trading two points, it was 7-1 in favor of Marshall, but Sheehan stepped to the service line with her dangerous jump serve, and North Branch reeled off four straight points, including an ace. The Vikings tied it at 10-10 and then caught fire. Brodin and Hadrava both had long serving runs, as well as Selbitschka, and the Vikings turned it into a blowout. They scored 14 of the next 18 points and led 24-14 before eventually finishing the set off with a kill by Irons to win 25-17.
The Tigers responded in the third set, though. North Branch took a 9-4 lead on five Selbitschka kills, but the wheels came off after that. The Tigers had runs of 8-0 and 5-0 in the second half of the set, and that sealed North Branch’s fate in that set as they lost 25-18.
With their season on the line again, the Vikings dug in. They played point-for-point with Marshall until the mid-set mark. NB had a 10-8 lead but scored six of the next eight points to give themselves a nice cushion. They continued to build on that lead over the set, growing the lead to 10 at 23-13 before finishing the win at 25-17 and pushing the match and their season to a one-set, winner-take-all race to 15 points.
North Branch took a 3-0 lead on two Marshall errors and a Brodin ace, but Marshall battled right back to take the lead at 4-3 on three errors by NB and an ace by Erica Jones. After that, there were nine ties, but Marshall always held the slight lead. In fact, after the 3-0 lead evaporated for North Branch, they didn’t take a lead again until 14-13, with the set and match on the line. Marshall fended it off, tying the set at 14-14. The Tigers fought off one more match point at 15-14 before taking a 16-15 lead and putting NB on the brink of elimination. Marshall gifted the Vikings the point back on a service error, which tied it at 16-16. Irons and Jordyn Hilgemann of Marshall traded kills to move it to 17-17, but that’s when North Branch made their move. Langevin put a big kill down, assisted by Sheehan to take the 18-17 lead, and off of a Kylie Kline serve, the Marshall setter had a double hit. The head referee blew his whistle throughout the Xcel Energy Center, and the Vikings set off a wild celebration, including players, coaches and managers.