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Titans survive Tigers: Dickinson Trinity uses a trio of hitters to defeat New England in 5 sets

Press Photo by Royal McGregor Dickinson Trinity sophomore outside hitter Kennedy Keator, right, hits a shot over the outstretched arms of New England seniors Hannah Nordby, left, and Gabbi Hanson during the semifinals of the Region 7 Tournament on Tuesday at Knights of Columbus Activities Center. Keator finished with a team-high 17 kills.

The New England volleyball team had just rallied in the fourth set to take a 27-25 win and tie up the match 2-2.

To the fans in the stands, the momentum appeared to be settling in favor of the Tigers.

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However, like a bolt of lightning, the No. 2 seed Dickinson Trinity came out firing in the fifth set to a quick 8-0 lead and finished off No. 6 seed New England 25-11, 25-21, 23-25, 25-27, 15-10 during the semifinals of the Region 7 Tournament on Tuesday at Knights of Columbus Activities Center.

“My girls were ready mentally in that fifth set,” Trinity head coach Rayma Braaten said. “That’s what made me so proud to see them and keep their composure after losing two sets in a row. I thought it was amazing how they performed in the fifth set.”

In the first eight points in the fifth set, the Titans received big contributions from senior middle blocker Gretchen Weir with three kills to give her team an 8-0 lead.

“We knew coming into the tournament we couldn’t overlook anyone,” said Weir, who finished with 13 kills. “Every team is a good team and we knew New England would be tough. I felt like we came together and we did it.”

The Tigers didn’t go away quietly and continued to chip away at the Titans’ lead. The closest New England came was three points, 13-10, after Madison Humleker hit an ace, which flew into the crowd of Trinity fans.

Trinity responded on the next point as Weir and junior setter Katie Dockter teamed up for a block to get the set to match point. After the block, Dockter stepped back to the service line and ripped the match-winning ace.

“The whole game I had confidence in my team and that point I said, ‘Year this is it. We were finally there,’” said Dockter, who ended with 41 assists, 10 digs and two aces. “It was just pure excitement.”

In the opening two sets, the Titans were rolling. Trinity’s offense was fueled by sophomore outside hitter Kennedy Keator and senior outside hitter Katelyn Grinsteinner with 17 and 13 kills, respectively. Keator and Grinsteinner also supplied 15 and 12 digs.

After the first two sets, the Tigers flipped the switch into survival mode. Senior middle blocker Hannah Nordby and junior outside hitter Taylor Hewson brought New England back to life winning back-to-back sets by a total of four points. Nordy and Hewson each ended the match with 17 kills apiece.

“Every team sets up against Taylor,” New England head coach Taylor Brown said with a smile. “Taylor is a solid hitter. She digs down deep and she wants that ball every single time. Hannah wants the same thing. That’s why I can’t put them on the front row together, because they would kill each other. One of them has to have it. I’m proud of them.”

The player Brown said was a key player, who helped New England climb out of the hole was setter Gabbi Hanson. The senior had 38 assists, 15 digs and five kills.

Despite the match ended in a loss for the Tigers, Brown couldn’t be more pleased with her team’s performance. The Tigers program has grown by leaps and bounds in the two years Brown has been the head coach.

“They never gave up and that’s what matters the most,” Brown said. “They pushed through every single time, even when we were down 8-0 at the beginning of the fifth set.

“It’s only my second year here, but I definitely feel like the whole program has gotten so much better. The first year I remember going to open gym and saying to myself, ‘Oh my gosh, what did I get myself into?’ I was so proud of them after last year. I feel like they’ve come so far and I feel like this program is going to get better.”

Jillian Stockert had a team-high 21 digs, while Madison Jahner had four aces and Brianna Soehren finished with five kills.

For the Tigers, Jenna Ehlis had nine kills, Humleker posted 14 digs and Linzee Volk supplied 15 digs and two kills.

For the third time in three years, Trinity and Beulah meet in the Region 7 championship game. In the previous two games, each team has a win with a trip to the North Dakota Class B state volleyball tournament. The Titans and Miners play at 8 p.m. on Thursday.

“I never ever underestimate Beulah,” Braaten said. “They have always been a solid team. We going to come and play hard and whoever wants it the most will win it.”

Dockter added: “This is my third year on varsity, so every year I’ve been on the varsity team we’ve played Beulah. I’m excited to match up and see how it turns out this year.”

NE 11 21 25 27 10 — 2

Trinity 25 25 23 25 15 — 3

Kills: NE, Taylor Hewson 17, Hannah Nordby 17, Jenna Ehlis 9, Gabbi Hanson 5, Linzee Volk 2, Autumn Wolf 2, Alecia Turner 1. T, Kennedy Keator 17, Katelyn Grinsteinner 13, Gretchen Weir 13, Allison Steffan 7, Brianna Soehren 5, Katie Dockter 3.

Blocks: NE, Nordby 2, Volk 1. T, Steffan 1, Dockter 1, Weir 1.

Aces: NE, Madison Humleker 1, Hewson 1, Wolf 1, Ehlis 1, Hanson 1, Nordby 1. T, Madison Jahner 4, Keatror 3, Dockter 2, Jillian Stockert 1, Grinsteinner 1, Katelyn Rummel 1.

Digs: NE, Hanson 15, Volk 15, Wolf 14, Humleker 14, Nordby 7, Hewson 7, Ehlis 1. T, Stockert 21, Keator 15, Grinsteinner 12, Dockter 10, Rummel 7, Jahner 4, Steffan 1, Soehren 1.

Assists: NE, Hanson 38, Ehlis 2, Wolf 1, Humleker 1, Turner 1. T, Dockter 41, Soehren 3, Stockert 3, Grinsteinner 2, Rummel 2, Keator 1.