FARGO-Ever since Central Cass senior Lily Pyle was in eighth grade, she wanted to win a region volleyball title. On Thursday, at Fargo Oak Grove, she did just that, leading the Squirrels to a 25-15, 29-27, 25-15 sweep of Northern Cass in the Region 1 championship match.
"This feels amazing," said Pyle, who finished with nine kills, three aces and two blocks. "This is a dream come true."
The region tournament was a nightmare last season for Central Cass.
"Last year we were ranked No. 1 and we were undefeated (in the region) the whole year, but we ended up losing our mental toughness and weren't able to finish off," Central Cass senior Carlie Kieffer said. "We did a lot of team building and a lot of working together and have a lot of great leaders on our team."
That was evident in Set 2 on Thursday.
Northern Cass had the first two points of the opening set, but it was all Central Cass (29-11-1) from there. The Squirrels answered with a 13-3 run behind three aces from Kieffer. The closest the Jaguars got from there was within six.
By the time both teams hit 11 in Set 2 there had been five ties. The Squirrels seemed to be pulling away, opening up a 16-11 behind two aces from Payton Richter and a block and a kill from Pyle, but the Jaguars didn't go away quietly. The Jaguars answered with a 7-2 run to tie the set at 18. The set had six more ties after that. The Jaguars had set point at 26-25 and 27-26, but the Squirrels kept finding answers.
"We weren't connecting, our hitters and setters, and we just needed to get that situated and figured out," Central Cass coach Nikki Nelson said. "They fought through it, and usually when we end up in those kind of situations we lose by two, and now we finally went on the other side of it and won by two. I think that gave us a lot of confidence going into Set 3."
When Central Cass trailed 26-25, Kieffer got a kill. When they trailed 27-26, Lyle got a kill. After a side-out, it was Maddy Sweep's turn to get a kill and close out the set for a 29-27 win. Six different players for Central Cass either got an ace or a kill in the second set.
"We really worked on this whole year being mentally tough and staying calm and taking the other team out of system, so we could stay in system," said Kieffer, who finished with six kills and five aces. "That was our main goal of the whole thing. We really tried getting our blocking down and everything just fell together. We have so many different talented people on our bench. From our starting couple to the last few, everyone is ready to go and ready to play."
After coming away with the second set, the third set was all Central Cass. The Squirrels opened with a 10-3 run and rolled from there. Northern Cass (24-7-1) got within seven at 21-14, but Sweep answered with two kills and the Squirrels were celebrating their first trip to the Class B state tournament since 2001.
"We really believed that we could be here," Nelson said. "We knew it was going to be a lot of hard work because we have a very tough region. There are like six teams that are all evenly matched. We knew it was going to be hard work, but we believed in ourselves and believed we could do it. I've always realized this team was real. Honestly, I really did."