WEST FARGO — Some of the players on West Fargo High School’s volleyball team had waited years for the moment that came Saturday.
The Packers defeated Fargo Davies in four sets (9-25, 25-23, 25-18, 27-25) to clinch the Class A East Region volleyball championship on their home court.
“It’s an amazing feeling. At the start of the year, we played every game like it was our last one because we didn't know what would come next,” said junior outside hitter Nadia Chwialkowski. “But we kept working toward this goal so if it would come, we were ready.”
That mentality has translated to success on the court. The Packers rose to 26-2 overall and 20-1 in the Eastern Dakota Conference with the win, which also earned them the top seed from the East. West Fargo will play West No. 4 seed Bismarck Legacy (11-8, 9-7 WDA) in the state quarterfinals at 4 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 19, at the Fargodome.
The Packers were thankful for more than the hardware, though. Amidst the state’s surging COVID-19 outbreak, North Dakota announced it would put winter prep sports on pause until Dec. 14. The change was part of new restrictions Gov. Doug Burgum released Friday. However, the state will allow the Class A and B state volleyball tournaments to continue as planned.
“I think it makes it that much sweeter,” Packers head coach Kelsey Gibbons on the tournament’s exemption. “My heart sunk for winter sports and having their seasons postponed. We’re really grateful. We’ve had that attitude from the beginning of this season — very grateful, taking it day by day. Fortunately, we're going to be able to finish it out.”
Right away, Chwialkowski didn’t know what those restrictions meant for her team’s season.
“When I heard that, I was a little scared, like ‘what was going to happen to us?’ But thankfully, everything will stay the same as of now, so that’s good,” said Chwialkowski, who had 11 kills and nine digs. “We’re grateful to be able to play next week.”
There was a touch of familiarity to Saturday’s win against Davies (25-6, 16-5 EDC). Like the Packers did almost a month ago, they won 3-1.
“The way that the match went, it was an extreme battle from the beginning,” said Gibbons, who was named the EDC Coach of the Year. “I’m really proud of the kids for being able to dig out and show some perseverance and not give up on themselves or each other.”
Davies shot out of the gates in the first set. The Eagles grabbed an early 7-2 lead on an Ava Wild kill and never looked back.
Grace Solberg stretched Davies’ lead to nine (17-8) on her fourth kill of the frame. Six straight Eagles points followed, and West Fargo couldn’t catch up to the strong lead. Davies ran away with the first set 25-9 after West Fargo hit the ball out of bounds.
Heading into the second set, Gibbons stressed finding ways to score. The strategy proved to be successful.
Davies continued to shine defensively, able to keep the ball alive numerous times. Wild and Solberg each reached double-digit kills midway through the back-and-forth second set.
The Eagles moved all around the floor, but the Packers found a way to get some points. A Halle Erickson kill brought the Packers to set point (24-23), and Mary Schnell clinched it on a kill.
West Fargo came out hot in the third set, leaving Davies to play catch up. A pair of Chloe Pfau kills gave the Packers a late 22-15 lead. Erickson sealed the third frame 25-23 with a spike. Erickson led the Packers with 13 kills, 14 assists and nine digs,
Down 2-1 entering the fourth set, Davies rallied to an 8-point lead (16-8) on a Solberg kill, her 16th of the night. The Packers got a burst of energy after a timeout, putting up six quick, unanswered points.
After a few set points, the Packers took the fourth and final frame 27-25.
“Davies was playing relentless defense, so at the end of the day, it was really important for us to find a way to score and to outwork and outlast them,” Gibbons said. “We knew they would continue to dig up our balls, so we had to find a way to just keep working and keep working and keep working and not not give up.”
The Packers wore masks during the competition, like they've done for a few weeks now.
“It’s definitely a challenge, especially with those long rallies we had tonight,” Gibbons said. “But I commend them for that too. To be able to play with a mask and to still fight for that and to be OK with that, that we made that decision as a team to help us continue to play. I'm proud of them.”
Davies, the No. 2 seed from the East, plays Mandan in the quarterfinals at 1 p.m. Thursday at the Fargodome.
Valley City 3, Fargo Shanley 2
Valley City earned itself another week of volleyball after the Hi-Liners posted a five-set win over Fargo Shanley on Saturday morning at West Fargo High School.
The sixth-seeded Hi-Liners (14-12) clinched a berth in the Class A state tournament in Saturday’s East Region state qualifier against the fourth-seeded Deacons.
The Deacons (14-6) had four players with double-digit digs. Lander Friederichs paced Shanley with 23 kills. Olivia Vetter dished out 53 assists for Shanley.
The Hi-Liners earned the fourth seed entering the state tournament and will face the top seed from the West in the opening round at 10 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 19, at the Fargodome.
West Fargo Sheyenne 3, Grand Forks Red River 2
Sheyenne rallied to win the final two sets to earn a 25-27, 25-16, 21-25, 26-24, 15-9 victory against Red River in a state-qualifying match Saturday at West Fargo High School.
Senior outside hitter Jadyn Feist paced the Mustangs with 18 kills and 30 digs. Sheyenne sophomore Kailee Waasdorp added 13 kills and 27 digs.
Senior outside hitter Kaylee Lancaster led Red River (14-10) with 17 kills and seven aces. Roughriders senior Alex Page had 13 kills.
The Mustangs (19-10) enter the state tournament as the No. 3 seed from the East. They'll face the No. 2 seed from the West in the quarterfinals at 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 19, at the Fargodome.