What better way to decide a volleyball state tournament berth than with a five-setter?
Shiloh Christian and Center-Stanton fought tooth-and-nail for five grueling sets in the Region 5 tournament championship match Thursday night at the Shiloh gymnasium, with the Skyhawks prevailing 19-25, 25-13, 25-21, 17-25, 15-11 to earn their second trip to the Class B volleyball state tournament in three years.
Shiloh, which was seeded No. 2 in the tournament, jumped out to a 6-1 lead in the fifth set and never looked back. Center-Stanton, the No. 1 seed and defending region champion, twice got within three points, 13-10 and 14-11, but Skyhawks' senior Liz Larson closed it out with a block for a point.
The Skyhawks dropped a 3-1 decision to the Wildcats in region play during the regular season, but Shiloh won the second meeting between the two teams, played at the Shiloh Invitational tournament. Shiloh senior Jesse Ebach expected nothing less than a barn-burner Thursday night.
"We're two very good teams. We're pretty evenly-matched and both of us really wanted to go to state," said Ebach, who had 12 kills, three blocks and two aces. "The match went to five games and that wasn't surprising. We got off to a great start in the fifth game and held on."
Center-Stanton's Abby Hintz recorded five kills in the first set, which saw the Wildcats finish on a 15-5 run.
However, the Skyhawks dominated the second set, opening up a 7-1 lead and finishing on a 9-2 run. Center-Stanton was its own worst enemy, with seven hitting errors, three service errors and three violations.
In the third set, Shiloh trailed 19-14, but pulled even at 20 with a 6-1 spurt. It was 21-21 before the Skyhawks reeled off the last four points, including kills by Josey Griess and Larson.
"That was the game we knew we had to get," Ebach said. "Winning the second game was huge because it gave us our confidence back. Winning the next one put the pressure on (the Wildcats)."
Center-Stanton forced a fifth set with an eight-point victory in the fourth. The Wildcats took command with the help of a 7-0 run that turned a 16-14 lead into a 23-14 advantage. Hintz had a pair of kills in the run, and later finished the scoring with an ace.
Hintz, a senior, closed out a stellar high school career with 19 kills. Morgan Vitek and Mykaela Jacobson added 18 and 10, respectively.
Larson topped the Skyhawks with 13 kills. Graycin Wazek contributed nine kills and four blocks; Griess was credited with 35 assists, and Rachel Mischel led the defense with 32 digs.
The state tournament will be held Nov. 16-18 at the Fargodome. There will be a seeding meeting this morning.
For Ebach and the rest of the Shiloh seniors, Thursday night's victory was sweet redemption.
"(The Wildcats) beat us last year in the region championship match," she said. "We waited a long time for another chance and tonight we played hard and achieved our goal."
Grant County captured third-place honors with a 22-25, 25-20, 27-25, 21-25, 15-12 victory over Garrison-Max.
The Coyotes' Taylor Roehl had 22 kills in her final high school match. Camryn Alt added 15 kills.
Shelby Gehring and Kaitlyn Klein led the Troopers with 18 and 17 kills, respectively. Ally Behles had 42 assists.