FARGO – From the outside, it looked like Century, after winning the first two games, was going to cruise through the state championship match.
Century senior hitter Megan Anderson knew better.
“We knew Jamestown was going to come out with more fire (for the third game),” Anderson said. “We didn’t get complacent. … Winning a state championship is never easy.”
Indeed it wasn’t, as the final 27-25, 25-18, 26-28, 24-26, 15-10 score would indicate.
Jamestown, which defeated Mandan in Friday’s semifinal after dropping the first two games, entered Saturday’s fifth game with the same kind of momentum.
Lauren Ware, Century’s 6-foot-4 sophomore center, quickly squelched that advantage by drilling six kills as the Patriots zoomed away to a 6-1 lead in the decisive set.
Century opened a 11-2 lead before Jamestown got rolling. However, the Blue Jays made their presence known, closing the gap to 13-10 with an 8-2 run.
That was the end of the line, though. Kills by Bailee Blickensderfer and Ware put the finishing touches on Century’s third straight state championship, just the second such achievement in Class A volleyball history. Fargo North captured three straight from 1994 to 1996.
Every game but the second was up for grabs until the bitter end.
The teams played through nine ties, the last at 24, before a wide tip by Jamestown’s Courtney Peterson gave Century the first game, 27-25.
With their backs to the wall after Century’s 25-18 verdict in the second game, Jamestown bared its fangs.
Jamestown survived two Patriot serves for game-point before eking out a 28-26 decision in the third game.
The fourth set featured eight ties. The Blue Jays broke the final deadlock at 24 by taking advantage of a CHS net serve and a kill by Mckayla Kurtz.
That set up the decisive fifth match where Ware took command.
Ware said she wasn’t told that the decisive game was on her back, but she said she was determined to perform her best.
“(Coach Jamie Zastoupil) really inspired me to play my best in the fifth set, and my teammates were encouraging, too,” Ware said. “That really brought up my confidence in the fifth set.”
Ware said she hand no doubt how the fifth set would go.
“I was super-confident. The way (Jamestown) came back just pushed us harder,” she said.
Saturday’s clash ran the season rivalry between the two teams to 17 sets, so Anderson said there were no surprises in the championship match.
“We know every little thing about Jamestown and they know everything about us,” she observed.
Jamestown won the first encounter 3-0 in September in the Buffalo City. Century won 3-2 at home in October, and prevailed again, 3-1, in the West Region tournament championship match.
Zastoupil co-coached with Sara Bohrer when Century won state championships in 2012, 2014 and 2015. She said this one was a little different.
“This one was pretty special,” she said. “The growth we had from beginning to end was different from any other year.”
She said she was well aware that the championship match would be an ordeal.
“It was incredibly tough. I wasn’t expecting anything less. Jamestown is an incredible team,” she observed. “Both teams get into it. There are competitive girls on both sides.”
Zastoupil said she wasn’t surprised at the way Ware took over the early stages of the fifth game.
“Lauren just has a presence about her, and the other kids feed off her. She’s a special athlete,” she noted.
Although Jamestown seemed to have the upper hand after four games, coach Sara Hegerle said she didn’t have the sense that the Blue Jays were in control.
“I don’t think we ever had them. We were fighting point-for-point against a good team,” she said.
While the outcome wasn’t what she wanted, Hegerle said she had no complaints about her team’s effort.
“I’m proud of them. … I’m glad they didn’t go down without a fight. Century beat a good Jamestown team,” she said.
Anderson, who will attend Minot State, said she couldn’t imagine a more satisfying ending to her high school volleyball career.
“This is what the end goal was. It can’t get better than this,” she said.
Saturday’s match continued an amazing run of consistency for the Century volleyball program. Patriot teams have played in the last seven state Class A championship matches and 11 of the last 13, winning in 2008, 2012, 2015, 2016 and 2017.