For as much as O’Gorman was ready to move on from last year’s first-round upset at state, the top-seeded team had to earn that relief on Thursday.
The Knights battled the early nerves and held off a resilient Rapid City Central squad 25-15, 25-23, 25-14 at the Corn Palace to exorcise the demons from a year ago and set up a semifinal meeting with Aberdeen Central tonight.
Though O’G had been the No. 1 team for most of the season, touting an undefeated record into district play, it was clear that the win over the Cobblers was a considerable weight off their shoulders – especially after Central went up 11-9 in the first set with a 7-1 run.
“I think everyone was just remembering last year and how we didn’t want to do that again, so it made us nervous,” said junior setter Dalee Stene, who had 40 assists. “We kind of played down to their level. We could have played better, but we pulled through.”
The Knights (21-1) answered with a 7-1 run of their own before going on to win the set, but the underdog Cobblers didn’t go away quietly, erasing a four-point deficit in the second to take an 11-9 lead. And when O’Gorman surged back to go ahead 20-12, the Cobblers (12-16) put up a fight to pull within one late.
“When we saw that we had Rapid City Central we knew it wasn’t going to be a cakewalk by any means, and I think our kids knew that, too. They’re going to make you work for every point,” said O’Gorman coach Julie Kolbeck. “We’ve been the Rapid City Central in the state tournament, and you like being the underdog at times (because) nobody has expectations for you. Those teams can be scary.”
O’Gorman didn’t wait long to pounce in the final set, grabbing an 11-4 lead and maintaining while back-to-back kills from Lauren Witte and a third from Taryn Kloth sealed the match.
The duo finished with 18 kills each, while Delanie Stene had 18 digs. Kloth added 13 digs and McKayla Hermanson, who gave the Knights a boost with her serve, finished with 11.
While the compliments toward Central’s scrappy play were plentiful from the O’Gorman side, Cobblers coach Amber Holzer deemed it one of the weaker matches her team has put together this season as Emily Herrera finished with 11 kills and Abi Wahl 20 assists and 12 digs.
“They got us out of system a lot – our serve receive was not strong – and we weren’t able to execute as well,” said Holzer. “They’ve got great hitters on their side of the net, but we have our fair share, too, and we weren’t able to set ’em up and do anything important because we weren’t able to start with that pass.”