Oak Grove rides momentum to sweep over Richland in region championship
FARGO — The volleyball court inside the Fargo Civic Center went from precision to chaos in a matter of seconds as Kara Berg lofted a perfect pass and Jaiden Zeis smashed home a kill to seal an Oak Grove sweep of Richland 25-20, 25-14, 25-20 in the North Dakota Class B, Region 1 volleyball championship on Thursday.
As soon as that final kill touched the court, the Grovers student section, clad in all black, stormed onto the court and celebrated with the players in a scene of pure elation after the Grovers defeated the Colts and earned their first trip to the state tournament in 20 years.
“That has been a dream of ours forever and ever,” Berg said. “It is incredible to have a community of students who will support us like that. As you can tell throughout the game that they were right there supporting us and wanting us to win.”
Oak Grove started slow, trailing for most of the first set and not taking their first lead until 20-19. But they caught fire down the stretch, taking nine of the final 11 points to win 25-20. And they carried that momentum all the way through to the end of the final set.
“We definitely gained the momentum back and when you get the momentum going in a game like this, it’s hard to get rid of it,” Berg said. “I think that’s what brought us through the first set and helped us to take it in three.”
Berg was in control of the ball all match, finishing with 18 set assists including nine in the third set. Her connections with Zeis and Julia Bogart were lights out — especially in the third set. She set them up with perfect passes and they slammed them home. Bogart had 12 kills and Zeis had nine.
“I always know that my hitters are going to be there ready for the set,” Berg said. “They are so trustworthy and they are so talented. I am honestly really honored to be able to set for hitters like that. I’m feeling really lucky to have them to put the ball away and know what’s happening on the other side.”
Oak Grove carried their momentum from the end of the first set into the beginning of the second as they ran out to a 7-1 lead. Olson started it off with a kill off an assist from Kellerman. And they stayed in control with two blocks and a service ace by Emily Stover.
The Colts cut their deficit down to one point 13-12 with a 7-2 run with a pair of blocks by Megan Roob and three kills by Rylee Hendrickson, assisted by Roob. The Grovers responded with a 12-4 run to close out the set. Zeis had back-to-back service aces to push OG’s lead to 23-14.
“The momentum was extremely big,” said Oak Grove coach Julie Vancura, who was named Region 1 Coach of the Year. “You come out after taking that first set coming from behind, and it sets a tone and gets the girls focused and ready for the next set because they know they don’t want to do that again.”
The Grovers stayed on fire in the third set, going up 8-1 right away. Berg was in total control, notching assists on five of the Grovers’ first eight points of the set. Bogart had four kills in that run and Zeis had two. They extended the lead up to 13-4.
The Colts fought back to cut their deficit to 14-13 with after a kill and an ace by Roob and a kill by Amundson. Oak Grove and Richland traded points from there until 17-15.
The Grovers separated themselves with a 5-0 run to bring the score to 22-15. Niemiller had a pair of kills to get to match point before Zeis smashed home the game-winner.
“We changed our game when we started to play defense,” Vancura said. “That’s what helped us out. We started to pick up where they were putting the ball and made them work harder to put the ball away. That helped us pull away.”
The Grovers open the North Dakota Class B Volleyball Tournament next Thursday at the Fargodome. Pairings for the first round will be announced Friday.