When in doubt, go to the game. You never know what kind of surprise might be lurking there.
Such was the case Tuesday night at Century's Olson gym where Bismarck blanked Mandan 25-23, 25-21, 25-20 in West Region volleyball.
That's hardly the result anyone in attendance at the match would have guessed. The two teams played through a nip-and-tuck five-game battle at Mandan a month earlier with the Braves winning 3-2.
Bismarck improved to 10-2 in regional play with the victory. Mandan slipped to 9-3 with the setback.
Mandan simply couldn't keep pace with Bismarck's balanced, free-swinging hitters. The Demons pounded out 46 kills at the expense of 11 hitting errors. Kenzie Moser and Macy Wetsch led the parade with 13 kills apiece. Olivia Dickerson and Callie Stonecipher followed with eight counters each.
Mandan totaled 32 kills with 13 hitting errors. Taylor Leingang and Lakyn Darras were the pacesetters with 10 and nine kills each.
Moser, a high-leaping 5-foot-7 junior, said the Demons were much better prepared mentally for the rematch with Mandan than they were the first encounter.
"We wanted it a lot more. Our energy was higher," Moser noted.
"We knew what they like to do," she added. "They like to tip, so we covered short a lot more than last time."
The win was Bismarck's seventh in eight matches, a surge Moser attributes to the Demons settling in as a team.
"We have new coaches (Melissa Andersen and Brianna Kline), and our communication is getting a lot better with them," she observed.
There were several players taller than Moser moving on and off the court during the course of the evening, including BHS 6-footers Olivia Dickerson and Callie Stonecipher. Offensively, though, she was the equal of any of them on Tuesday.
"(A 5-7 frame) has its disadvantages, but I don't think about that. I just play my game," Moser said. "I definitely have to jump a little bit higher, though."
Bismarck had Mandan in catch-up mode most of the match, but the Braves weren't far back. The Demons had just a 75-64 edge in match points.
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BHS took an early lead in the first game, but Mandan tied the set at 10-10. Five more ties followed before the Demons broke through with a 5-2 run to go ahead 23-20. A shot by Moser that was blocked out of bounds decided the game 25-23.
The second game was tied nine times, the last at 16. At that point Bismarck took control, outscoring the Braves 9-5 the rest of the way. Moser provided three kills to that game-winning run, and Dickerson added a block and kill for back-to-back BHS points.
Bismarck broke to the front early in the third game, opening a 7-2 lead. Mandan didn't pull even until an ace by senior Taylor Fix made it 17-17.
The two teams traded kills for an 18-18 deadlock. Then a hitting error by Mandan sophomore Morgan Sheldon and an ace by BHS sophomore Mia Hinsz launched the Demons on a match-winning 7-2 run.
A kill by Wetsch, a 5-9 senior, ended it at 25-20.
Coach Andersen attributed Bismarck's strong Tuesday effort to mental rather than technical improvement.
"The team decided to execute the plan and stay focused on the main goal," she said. "The goal was to play as a team, play one ball at a time and fight through each point."
"Mandan is a tough team with a lot of strengths. We had to make sure we were doing the little things right," Andersen added.
Andersen said the Demons were able to incorporate all their threatening hitters into the attack on Tuesday.
"Tonight we worked really hard at moving the ball around. ... Our defense and setters trusted the hitters would do the job and take care of the third ball," Anderson noted.
Mandan coach Anna Folk wasn't ready to say Tuesday's match was without redeeming points.
"We have to play better as a team. We had a few good moments. We didn't play badly, we just didn't play well as a team," she said. "... Our defense is better than what we saw tonight."
"I hope we can take it as a learning experience, because the rest of the season is going to be a dogfight," she noted.
Both teams will head to Fargo for the Scheels Invitational tournament Friday and Saturday, weather permitting.