BISMARCK — West Fargo came up short in Friday's Class A state semifinal, but Packers head volleyball coach Kelsey Gibbons said her team had nothing to hang their heads about.
The Packers graduated a talented senior class last year that included two all-state players. They entered this season with a younger lineup that returned three seniors.
"I think a lot of people counted us out early," Gibbons said. "This summer, it was about getting to work right away. We weren't going to wait until midseason. I really commend this group for seeing the challenge ahead of them and not giving up and being confident in themselves."
Bismarck High was on the winning side of the semifinal match Friday at Bismarck Event Center. The Demons had plenty of firepower at their disposal and used it to down West Fargo in straight sets (25-20, 27-25, 25-19) on Friday. West Fargo plays Fargo Shanley for third place at 3 p.m. Saturday.
Four players had seven or more kills in Bismarck's dominant offensive performance. Senior right-side hitter Emily Stonecipher led the Demons with a team-high 13 kills. She also landed two aces.
"It feels amazing. It's just unbelievable," Stonecipher said. "Especially since last year we didn't go to state, and then my sophomore year we went to state and got last."
The Demons will play rival Bismarck Century for a state championship at 5 p.m. Saturday.
Stonecipher said the state tournament is some of the best volleyball Bismarck has played all season. The Demons were firing on all cylinders right out of the gate. Both sides have challenged opponents with fast starts, but it was Bismarck who won the first few minutes of each set.
Bismarck was composed from start to finish and didn't let many balls go down the entire match. The Demons overwhelmed early with a balanced attack that kept West Fargo guessing.
Bismarck jumped out to a 4-1 lead in the opening set and never lost the upper hand. The Demons were all over the court and made West Fargo work for every point. Neither team went on long runs in the frame. Down by five at 21-16, the Packers rattled off three points in a row to pull within two, but Bismarck shut the door with a 4-1 run.
"It's huge to get ahead at the beginning," Stonecipher said. "It really makes the game, because your energy is going to be so high."
Bismarck wasted no time getting out to a 6-1 lead in the second set and didn't let up. The Demons grabbed an 18-9 lead on a 12-8 run, capped off by five straight points.
West Fargo clawed its way back with a 13-5 surge that started with seven straight points and made it a one-point match at 23-22. Century got the next point, but West Fargo had the next three. After being down by nine points during the set, the Packers pushed the frame to extra points. A Mary Schnell kill gave West Fargo a 25-24 lead, its first of the match, but Bismarck quickly rattled off three unanswered points on a Kenadi Renner kill and two West Fargo attack errors to take the second set 27-25.
"They're hard fighters," Gibbons said. "We made too many mistakes and it's a game of mistakes, but when you're down by that much, to be able to find a way out of it to continue to battle, I think that says a lot about the kids we have."
The teams traded punches to start the third set, which was tied halfway through at 14-all. Five of West Fargo’s first 13 points were from Chloe Pfau kills. Pfau had 10 kills and three blocks. Nadia Chwialkowski also delivered 10 kills for the Packers to go along with 21 digs. West Fargo was led defensively by Chwialkowski's eighth-grade sister, Raina, who collected 33.
The Demons broke the tie with four straight points. West Fargo didn't get within more than three points to close out the set.
"Their serve-receive and their defense, they're relentless in the way they pursue the ball," Gibbons said. "Then when they can convert that into a strong offense, it's hard to defend. They run a great offense with a lot of tipping and a lot of shots."