MINOT — Century got its volleyball 4-peat at the Minot State Dome Saturday night, but Mandan made the Patriots earn it.
With much of the near full house cheering for Mandan, the Patriots put together a clutch 9-0 run in the fourth set to erase an 11-7 deficit before closing out the set, and match, 25-21, 25-23, 24-26, 25-18.
“We know people don’t want us to win, we understand that and that’s OK,” said junior Lauren Ware, who tied her own state championship match record with 27 kills. “Putting on this Century Patriots jersey means a lot to the people that wear it. There’s a history and tradition behind it and part of that means teams really want to beat us. We just try to embrace that and add it to the challenge.”
Mandan mounted a spirited defense, despite falling behind 2-0. Two kills by Olivia Moe to end the third set gave the Braves a 26-24 victory and handed Century its first, and only, setback of the tournament.
“The past few weeks we’ve had our backs against the wall multiple times whether it’s down in the match or down in the set, but the girls have been really good about sticking with it and continuing to plug away,” Mandan coach Anna Folk said. “Obviously getting down 2-0 to them is not an ideal situation, but the girls were never frustrated or panicked they just went back out there and made a match of it.”
It looked like it might even go the distance.
Two errors by the Patriots, an ace by Megan Zander and a kill from Sydney Walters put Mandan up 11-7 in the fourth set, whipping the crowd into a frenzy. But the Patriots answered in a big way, scoring the next nine points, the last two on back-to-back aces by Chloe Markovic, the second of which made it 16-11 Century.
“We called a timeout and told them, ‘This crowd had nothing to do with you getting here and they’re not going to have nothing to do with how we finish.’ But we have young players and they haven’t really experienced anything like that and it’s hard,” said Century coach Jamie Zastoupil. “We pulled it off with a rotation we’ve really struggled with all year long. We ended on that all three sets at the state tournament, but those young players really stepped up and finished it off for us.”
Once in front, the Patriots stepped on the gas.
Setter Mya Klein had a clutch tip kill to make it 19-15 before setting up Hailey Fletcher to slam home the clincher to Century’s fourth consecutive state title.
“It was very much a team effort. All the girls, up and down our lineup, contributed in a really big way from our setters to our hitters and our back-row players,” Ware said. “It really was a great team effort and we knew we’d need that because Mandan is a very good team.”
Century jumped out 5-0 and 6-0 in the first two sets, but Mandan didn’t go away either time.
After a booming kill by Megan Zander and a Century hitting error, Mandan closed within 23-21 in the opening game. But after a timeout, Ware dropped the hammer twice in a row to close out the set, 25-21.
Tied 23-all in the second set Ware tossed in a changeup with a tip kill to set up match point and Julia Fitterer sealed it on a feed from Markovic to put the Patriots up 2-0.
Ware’s contributions go beyond the eye-popping numbers, which included 6.5 blocks to go with the 27 terminations.
“She just has this confidence and this aura that kids are going to follow,” Zastoupil said of Ware. “There are a couple times a match where I tell her, ‘Lauren, you got to get with this kid. You gotta let them know you trust them, and you need them' and that’s more meaningful hearing it from her than it is from me.
“She’s just a natural leader that kids want to follow. You can’t force that or fake that, and of course, she’s incredibly talented as an athlete and a volleyball player.”
Ware had plenty of help.
Fitterer totaled 19 digs and 13 kills. Fletcher connected for 10 kills with Kaia Lill (24) and Klein (23) teaming for 47 of Century’s 53 assists.
Zander finished her fine career with 11 kills and a pair of aces. Lakyn Darras had another strong match at the net, hitting eight kills and posting a team-high two blocks, while Kennedy Harris, another of Mandan’s seven seniors, led all players in the game with 24 digs for the Braves who finished with 31 wins.
“Those girls did a great job in how they played and how they worked to improve and get better and our younger players saw that,” said Folk, who was named Class A coach of the year. “It was a fun group to coach. It was a fun group to spend time with off the court. We’re really going to miss them, but they made a tremendous mark on our volleyball program and we’re really proud of what they were able to accomplish.”