FARGO — They didn’t get off the starting line very well, but fortunately for the Jamestown Blue Jays a five-set volleyball match is a marathon.
Jamestown recovered from setbacks in the first two games to outlast Mandan 3-2 in Friday’s semifinal round of the state Class A volleyball tournament at the Fargodome,
Alyssa Ukestad ended the extended battle and sent Jamestown into its first state championship match since 2013 with a pair of kills that broke a 15-15 fifth-game deadlock.
Jamestown, 34-5, takes on Centurhy in tonight’s state championship match at 7. Century was the opponent in 2013 when Jamestown won its only state volleyball title. Mandan squares off against Valley City in today’s 3 p.m. third-place match.
The Blue Jays had to overcome a shaky start to rebuff Mandan’s bid for a spot in the championship game. Mistakes abounded as the Jays dropped the first two games 25-20 and 25-19. Jamestown had 11 hitting errors, six service errors and a violation in the first two sets.
“We were not playing like ourselves,” Jamestown’s Courtney Peterson said in retrospect. “We haven’t really been in a situation like that before and we didn’t know what to do. We just knew not to give up.”
Normalcy began to return in the third game as Jamestown went on a 7-1 run to open a 14-8 lead. Still, the Jays had to withstand a furious closing rush by Mandan. The Braves put together an 8-1 run to close the deficit to 23-22. Hits by Peterson and Ukestad, sandwiched around a kill by Mandan’s Olivia Moe gave Jamestown the third game 25-23.
Jamestown overcame a 13-9 deficit to take the fourth game 25-20. The Blue Jays drew even at 13 on a kill by Peterson, a junior hitter. Ties at 14, 15 and 18 ensued before a 5-1 surge that put the Jays in the driver’s seat, 23-19. Consecutive kills by Peterson and Megan Gaffaney closed out the fourth game and set up the grand finale.
Mandan opened the fifth game with two hitting errors, launching Jamestown off on a 7-2 start, the most spectacular point being Gaffaney’s flip-kill. Gaffaney while lying outstretched on the floor, prevented a Mandan kill and somehow flipped the ball over the net to give Jamestown a 3-1 lead.
Down 13-8, Mandan staged a last-ditch rally, Megan Zander and Courtney Olson picking up two kills each as the Braves knotted the score at 18 with a five-point run.
Jamestown served at match-point leading 14-13 and 15-14 on kills by Jordan Paulson and Peterson. But Mandan avoided extinction, first on a service error by the Blue Jays and then on a kill by Lakyn Darras. Then came Ukestad’s two kills and the Blue Jays were in the championship match.
Zander, a 5-foot-10 junior, was a major factor for Mandan in the first two games, rapping seven kills and scoring on four blocks. Joining in the good times for the Braves were 5-7 junior Olivia Moe with five kills and Olson, a 5-10 senior, with five kills and a block.
Mandan coach Anna Folk said Zander has played a big role in Mandan’s three successive five-set matches. The Braves defeated Legacy in last week’s state-qualifying match and on Thursday’s upset West Fargo, the East Region’s No. 1 seed. Both those matches went the distance.
“Megan’s ownership of our team came into play,” Folk said. “… She figured out that her role on the team is more than being a power hitter and power blocker.”
Zander finished the night with 20 kills and six blocks.
Jamestown’s answer to Zander was Peterson, whose contribution was 25 kills and 15 digs.
Mandan finished with 11 blocks, at total that Peterson said was no accident.
“They just have some really good kids. Lakyn Darras and Megan Zander are really strong blockers,” Peterson observed. “That kind of scared us a little bit. That’s probably why we made so many errors.”
Peterson said the Blue Jays were well aware Mandan posed a threat.
“They’ve played a lot of good games lately, so we knew it wasn’t going to be easy,” she said.
Taxing though the semifinal match was, Peterson said the Blue Jays still have plenty of gas in the tank for the championship match.
“Oh, yeah. We are SO ready for tomorrow,” she exclaimed.
For Folk, seeing a rare state championship game appearance slip away was not easy to swallow.
We’ve been believing we had the capability, grit and determination to be here, and tonight there was a winner and loser,” she said.
The Braves have played in one final, losing to Williston in 2004.
“We had it in our sights,” Folk noted. “We were in control most of the match. … It’s sad. We were so close.”