BRAINERD, Minn. — In a year filled with constant change, some things never change.
While officially not a Class 3A, Section 8 tournament because of the timing, the No. 3 seeded Moorhead Spuds still made it a point to defeat the No. 2 seeded Brainerd Warriors 25-23, 21-25, 25-16, 23-25, 15-11 Thursday, Nov. 19, in a rescheduled section semifinal match at Brainerd High School.
It marks the third straight year Moorhead has knocked Brainerd out of the section semifinals. Moorhead, now 9-3 overall, will host Sartell in a 6 p.m. match on Friday. The section matches were rescheduled after Gov. Tim Walz announced Wednesday that there would be a pause on high school sports beginning at midnight Friday because of the escalating COVID pandemic.
Back on Nov. 5, Brainerd snapped a seven-match losing streak to the Spuds.
“I think it was just our focus,” Moorhead head coach Char Lien said. “We came in so flat two weeks ago. That was a wake-up call for us. We really started to change things in our practices and change things in our lineup. We knew we couldn’t just coast through.
“We knew we were going to have a battle. They are a great hitting team and very, very scrappy defensively so we knew it was going to be a battle. But we knew if we played the way we were capable and then made adjustments as we go, we could win. It felt like that sparring match or boxing match, if you will, we took their punches and turned around in transition and had some kids make some plays that maybe they haven’t made before. That’s what high school ‘tournament play’ is all about. It felt like that kind of atmosphere.”
The atmosphere was playoff-like especially in the fifth set, where the largest deficit was three points.
Moorhead built a 8-6 lead before Brainerd tied it at 9-9 after a Madi Genz tip and a Moorhead error. Tied 11-11, Moorhead went to its strengths and attacked the Warriors block.
A Brainerd error, followed by a Riane Mahagen kill, a Sam Zimmerman kill and another Warrior error sealed the Spuds’ victory.
“I’m always going to be that way,” Lien said. “I’m not going to get into a tip party because if you have such a good defensive team they can push forward pretty easily and pick those things up unless you’re going to tip it deep. The (officials) were calling it pretty tight tonight so I didn’t want to risk that. To me, when you’re starting to get tired in that fifth set, that’s when the legs start to go and you are jumping as well and blocking becomes more difficult. That’s when you have to challenge them even more.”
Moorhead took the first set 25-23. Brainerd’s Abbi Bohlen opened the set with an ace serve and Brainerd built a 4-3 lead before Moorhead rallied to take a 5-4 edge.
Brainerd answered thanks to back-to-back Moorhead hitting errors and a Kate Stadum tip to make it 15-10. The Spuds tied the score at 15-15 and eventually took the lead for the final time at 21-20 thanks to a Brainerd hitting error.
“We had 10 service errors and you can’t make those service errors when you have a run going because it gives the team just so much more momentum,” Brainerd head coach Rick Kuehlwein said. “You saw that when they won that first set. We really gave it to them. It was a close set and anybody could have won, but you just can’t make those silly ball-control errors when you get down to the end like that.”
Moorhead jumped to an 8-4 lead in the second set and built it to 15-10 before Genz dropped two tips over the Moorhead block building Brainerd’s momentum. It carried the Warriors to a 19-18 lead and ended with a Meghan Smith kill and a Warrior 25-21 win.
“We did make some adjustments because they came out in that second frame and we did not match up well with them so we adjusted our lineup a little bit and it felt like we had a little better matchup with who we were competing against up at the net and defensively,” Lien said. “I don’t know if that makes a difference or not, but these guys have been very good about listening and taking what we’re saying and trying it. They’re doing some things they probably haven’t done before and whoever can make those adjustments quicker usually comes out on the positive.”
Something worked as the Spuds exploded to a 10-1 lead in the third set and hung on to that 10-point lead the majority of the way leading to a 25-16 win. Once again, Zimmerman provided the exclamation point kill to hand Moorhead a 2-1 edge.
“They weren’t in system half the time,” Kuehlwein said. “Their setter was setting from 10 feet off, but they just converted more out of system stuff than we did. It was that simple.”
It was Brainerd’s turn to make some adjustments and it was all about pace in the fourth set.
Moorhead built a 15-10 lead in the fourth set before a timeout and some words of wisdom. It resulted in Brainerd tying the score 19-19 and posting a 25-23 victory thanks to a Genz kill followed by a Karlie Anderson kill.
“When you get on a run, you have to take a look at kids’ body language,” Kuehlwein said. “I told the kids that you have to change the pace a little bit. They got their pace going so we needed to go faster or slower. We just needed to change the pace and then we were able to come back. That’s what really did it for us.”