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Area Volleyball: Jaguars deny PR-B a return trip to state

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Bailey Wynn2 / 2

 LITTLE FALLS—This year's Section 5-1A championship match was a complete flip of last year's title contest.

The second-seed and 10th-ranked Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa Jaguars clawed their way past top-seeded and fifth-ranked Pine River-Backus Tigers 3-1 Saturday, Nov. 3 for a trip to the Class 1A state tournament.

Last year, it was the Tigers, playing without any seniors, who shocked a senior-laden BBE squad with a 3-1 win. This year, it was the Jaguars turn, playing with just three seniors, to upset the higher-ranked Tigers with five seniors by the same score.

"Right now it hurts a lot," said PRB head coach Josh Hirschey, "but I give them (BBE) credit first of all. They played outstanding and for whatever reason, it wasn't meant to be for us tonight. Our goals were a lot higher, but it is what it is.

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BBE 3, PRB 1

  • Overall: PRB 28-3, BBE 26-4
  • Next: BBE in Class 1A state quarterfinals at Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul, Thursday, Nov. 8

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"I don't think we felt pressure tonight, but we didn't execute when we had to. Even when we were making serves, they weren't to our targets for much of the night. I thought that was the difference. My hitters up front were fine. They (BBE) served really well and that was a factor as well."

Despite a distinct height disadvantage, the shorter Tigers were able to hold their own at the net. PRB finished with 49 kills and seven blocks while BBE had 52 kills and eight blocks.

Leading the stat sheets for PRB were seniors Gabby Rainwater with 17 kills and two blocks, Alyssa Semmler with 14 kills and four blocks and Bailey Wynn with 11 kills, six ace serves and 11 digs. Wynn successfully completed 26 serves and picked up her 1,000th career kill in the fourth set. Junior libero Emma Barchus collected a team-high 23 digs and sophomore setter Rylie Hirschey put up 44 set assists.

The Jaguars were led by seniors Ally Gruber with 16 kills and Emily Knight 10 kills and four blocks. Brittany Berge, a junior, finished with 15 kills, three blocks and a team-high 16 digs. Sophomore Karee Kampsen collected 44 set assists.

BBE head coach Kevin Weller admitted that Gruber and Berge were probably the difference in the game.

"They've been consistent all year long and they've been the top hitters on the team although it's interesting that we've had four or five different hitters during the season who have come up as our leading hitters. But they are our two studs and we're happy this is the night they stepped up."

Wynn, a 5-foot-7 middle hitter collected four of her aces and three kills in the first set. Semmler and Rainwater added five and four kills respectively as the Tigers moved out to a 20-14 lead, only to see BBE close out with an 11-2 run for a 25-22 win.

"We didn't serve well, especially in that stretch," said Hirschey. "And then we didn't get swings when we had a chance to get swings, that was part of their run."

Weller added "We shook off some nerves. These kids have never been in a game this big. I told them let's just settle in and play our game. We had talked about all the momentum and all the energy Pine River-Backus brings — they brought it last year and you saw it tonight. It was crazy here. We just thought if we could work through that first half of the game we would be fine and things would start going our way."

That momentum carried over into the second set when BBE took its first lead at 7-6 while on a 5-0 run. The Jaguars never trailed again. PRB would twice tie the score at 12-12 and 13-13 and were at 21-20 before BBE closed out with four straight points on a Tiger line violation and three straight kills by Berge.

The third set started out with four lead changes and nine tied scores. PRB went on a 7-0 run for their biggest lead of the night at 19-12. A kill by Hirschey closed out the set 25-18.

The Tigers held their only lead in the fourth set at 6-5 before the Jaguars went on a 7-0 run keyed by two kills each from Berge and Gruber and a pair of ace serves from libero Emily Kern. BBE had the match under control at 23-13 following a 6-1 run before PRB made a valiant effort to comeback going on a 7-1 run of its own to close to 24-20. Fittingly, it was Berge putting an exclamation mark on the match with her 15th kill for the win.

PRB finishes 28-3 with a combined record of 54-11 over the last two years.

The Jaguars will be making their fifth state appearance and first since 2010.

Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa 25 25 18 25

Pine River-Backus 22 20 25 18

Pine River-Backus statistics

Gabby Rainwater 17 kills, 2 blocks, 8 digs

Bailey Wynn 11 kills, 6 ace serves, 12 digs

Ellie Smith 1 ace serve

Anna Felthous 2 set assists, 1 kill, 1 dig

Jaime Johnson 5 kills, 7 digs

Olivia Adkins 1 kill

Alyssa Semmler 14 kills, 4 blocks, 8 digs

Rylie Hirschey 44 set assists, 6 digs, 1 ace serve, 1 block

Emma Barchus 23 digs, 1 ace serve