BISMARCK — JayCee Richter had no doubt her teammate would deliver when she was set up for a kill on match point.
“I had complete, full trust in her,” Richter said. “I was like, ‘she's gonna slam this ball down,’ and she did. It was amazing.”
Kim Gefroh slammed home the game-ending kill that secured a sweep and state championship for Linton-HMB. The Lions captured their second consecutive Class B volleyball state title with a three-set win (25-11, 25-22, 25-22) over Northern Cass on Saturday at Bismarck Event Center.
“I'm just so excited. It's these girls, though,” Linton-HMB head coach Jaime Richter said. “They work hard everyday at practice, and they're resilient. They believe in each other and they're fighters.
“I knew they would come out and fight and they love this kind of competition. I know we're always the smallest team out there, but I got the kids that play with heart.”
Linton-HMB’s will to win was apparent throughout the championship match. The Lions recovered from a seven-point deficit in the third set and battled back to take the frame, which completed the sweep.
Linton-HMB swept its way to the program’s first state title a year ago. Saturday’s title match was the second straight appearance for the Lions and third overall. The top-seeded Jaguars, who outlasted Linton-HMB in a five-set thriller exactly a month ago, hadn’t reached the championship since 2013.
Big-stage nerves were a factor for Northern Cass early on.
“The first set, obviously they came out to a hot start,” Northern Cass head coach Angie Johnson said. “We were playing a little bit tight. But the second and third match could have gone either way. I tried to tell the girls that it's a bummer it's a sweep but it was competitive and we did put up a fight.”
The Lions were on a mission to defend their state title, and they sure played like it. Linton-HMB’s offensive firepower was too much for Northern Cass to handle in the first set. Eight of Linton-HMB’s first 13 points were from kills. The Lions surged to a convincing 19-8 lead that carried them to a 25-11 first-set win.
Teegan Scherr led Linton-HMB’s dangerous offense with 14 kills. Scherr also had 15 digs.
The Jaguars were limited to 25 kills in the three-set match. Josie Jensen and Emma Lucas powered the offense with six kills apiece.
It wasn’t easy to put the ball down against the strong Lions defense, Johnson said. The Lions had 92 digs in the match. JayCee and Callie Hase led the stout backline with 26 digs apiece.
Northern Cass found a way to tame the Lions in the second frame. The Jaguars grabbed a 12-9 lead on kills by three different players and a few errors by Linton-HMB. But just as the Jaguars found their rhythm, the Lions rallied with a 7-1 run to pull ahead. From there, 12 of the set’s next 16 points were scored by the Lions, who cruised to set point at 24-19. Northern Cass denied three set points on kills by Jensen and Lucas and a huge block, but the Lions picked up the win on a Jaguars attack error.
“We regrouped into the second set, really focusing on what we can control, so really getting up and pressing over the block,” Johnson said. “They were playing great defense, so we were kind of frustrated. We had to talk with those hitters to mix up their shots because it's not gonna fall right away.”
Trailing by two sets, the Jaguars didn’t panic. They put together a 13-3 run that resulted in a 14-7 lead. Northern Cass stonewalled the Linton-HMB hitters to take control of the set.
“At the beginning we started off a little slow. We didn't have as much energy as we did at the start of the first set,” JayCee said. “It was kind of hard for us to get that back. But we believe in each other and we came together and were like, 'we can do this.’”
The Lions roared back with a furious 16-6 rally to take the lead at 21-20. Tension was high as the teams traded punches in the race to 25. Lucas made it a one-point set at 23-22, but Linton-HMB shut the door with back-to-back kills.
“I don't know what it was. We kind of stepped off the gas a little bit and they ended up getting a couple runs on us and then they kind of took off at the end,” Johnson said.
Northern Cass finishes the season at 36-2-1, with both of its losses coming at the hands of Linton-HMB.