ST. PAUL — For the fourth time in five years, the Moorhead Spuds volleyball team was unable to get out of the first round of the Minnesota Class 3A state volleyball tournament Thursday morning at the Xcel Energy Center.
Moorhead opened stronger and faster than the 26-6 Skippers, taking the first set before giving up leads in the remaining three sets, losing 21-25, 26-24, 28-26, 25-23.
After wins over Detroit Lakes, Brainerd and Sartell-St. Stephan to win the Section 8 championship, the Spuds took aim to make some noise at state, earning the No. 5 seed
“We were very excited to get the five seed this year,” Moorhead coach Char Lien said. “I think being up north, we get a little overlooked sometimes and today we were able to be right in every set.”
Moorhead definitely made some head turns in the first set, starting fast and leading most of the way. After the Skippers grabbed an 18-16 lead, the Spuds would respond, putting together a 9-3 run to close out the set.
“We came out right away in the first set, played real solid," Lien said. "I think we maybe surprised some people about what we had."
In a tighter second set, Minnetonka stayed with Moorhead, before the Spuds tallied off six straight points, leading 20-16, eventually arriving to a pair of set points at 24-22.
The Skippers didn’t allow another point, closing on a 4-0 run to knot things up at a set apiece.
The third set brought a change of pace, as Moorhead took hold of the largest lead in the match, leading 24-17 after a 9-2 run. The Skippers weren’t fazed, mounting a dramatic comeback ultimately tying the match at 24, before securing a thrilling third-set win.
Moorhead was unable to hold on in the fourth set despite leading again 21-17. Junior middle hitter Sam Zimmerman said her team was unable to adjust to the way Minnetonka played in the latter stages of the sets.
“I thought we kept our nerves under control, but they started adjusting to what we were doing, and then we couldn’t adjust to score more, and made more errors,” Zimmerman said.
The junior paced the Spuds’ offense, recording 15 kills, while senior Jaden Ennen chipped in 12 kills. Claire Howell, a senior setter, added a match-high 61 assists.
“We had that lead there, but we just couldn’t put things together like we did in the first set,” Ennen said.
Despite the loss, Lien says she is proud of her team and was one big moment away from winning the match.
“Sets two, three, and four, we did everything exactly what we wanted to do, just unable to finish,” Liene said. “Maybe if we just found that one play, that one big saving dig, that one big hit, that might have been enough to calm us down a little bit.”
With Moorhead headed to the consolation side of the state tournament, Lien believes her team is playing their best volleyball.
“Throughout section play, I really felt that we were playing our best ball, and today was no different," she said.
The Spuds will face St. Louis Park in consolation play at 9 a.m. Friday.