A point here or there and fourth-seeded Washington could have been headed back to the semifinals of the Class AA state volleyball tournament.
But Aberdeen Central’s aggressive serving and timely blocking were too much for the Warriors, who fell 25-23, 25-23, 27-25 Thursday at the Corn Palace, as the Golden Eagles earned a meeting with O’Gorman tonight.
Fifth-seeded Aberdeen (19-4) struck for nine aces against a Washington team that typically doesn’t surrender much in that area behind senior libero Ellie Benson. Sophomore outside hitter Briana Kusler accounted for four of those aces while filling up the stat sheet with 12 kills, 10 digs and four of Aberdeen’s 19 blocks.
“That’s the best serving team we’ve faced all year. And we’re decent defenders, usually,” said Washington coach LaDawn Nesje. “They had (nine) ace serves on us. We don’t usually give up (nine). There were some things with our blocking we could have adjusted a little bit more and we needed to find their crosscourt seam a little bit better, but I think the difference was serve and serve receive.”
The razor-thin final margin of each set was indicative of just how close the match played out as neither team led by more than a handful of points at any time. In fact, each set came down to the wire with ties as late as 22-22 in the first, 23-23 in the second and obviously 25-25 in the third.
But each time the Golden Eagles needed a point to either halt a Washington rally or take command, they found it via their aggressive play.
“If every state tournament match was like that, it would be hard to live through,” said Aberdeen coach Dennis Northrup, pointing to his team’s resiliency during a brief rough stretch earlier in the season as the difference maker.
“It was a matter of us finding ourselves a little bit and finding out about our character,” he added. “We played some really good volleyball off and on, but a state tournament is all about playing three matches like that.”
Bridget White had a match-high 13 kills for the Eagles, while Maddie Goetz recorded 26 assists and 13 digs and Megan Kingstriter six blocks.
Despite falling behind two sets, a rarity for the Warriors, they made one final push after trailing 22-18 in the third set.
Washington (18-7) fought off a pair of match points to eventually knot things at 25-25, but Aberdeen sealed it with a block on a Peyton VandeBrake attack.
VandeBrake finished with 11 kills, while Jamie Kayl had 10 kills and 12 digs. Hannah Nieman had 32 assists, Benson 23 digs and Lauren Farritor and Kiah Damme 14 digs each.
Meanwhile, the focus for the Eagles shifts to top-seeded O’Gorman in a battle of two teams that suffered first-round upsets a year ago.
The two did not meet in the regular season, though one of Aberdeen’s four losses came in sweep against Roosevelt – a team the Knights defeated twice.
“They’re going to be tough, but honestly, I think we can beat them,” said Goetz. “We’re just going to go out and do what we did tonight. It’s going to be interesting.”