A week ago, the No. 2 Hettinger-Scranton volleyball team dropped a single set to No. 3 Bowman County. The Night Hawks, who have been dominant all season, dropped just five sets to Region 7 opponents this fall, including a 3-0 loss to Dickinson Trinity on Oct. 9. However, on Tuesday, Nov. 6, in a rematch against the Bulldogs, the Night Hawks won just a single set, dropping the regional semifinal 3-1 at the Knights of Columbus Activities Center.
"They just haven't handled the pressure very much," Hettinger-Scranton head coach Ria Eaton said. "They haven't had a lot of games go past three. I just don't think they handled the pressure very well and if you don't have the mental game, it's really tough to keep up with the rest of it."
The Night Hawks picked up an opening-set victory, 25-23, but from then on, it was all Bowman County. Working to reverse their fate from the week before, the Bulldogs came away with set victories of 25-19, 25-21 and 25-19.
"The difference was, I would say mostly in our serving game," Bowman County head coach Jennifer Holecek said. "Hettinger-Scranton is such a great team. They serve so well and they swing so well and they got us out of system so much when we played them last Tuesday, that we knew that this was an opportunity that we could have again. So we really went to work on trying to fix things. ... We really came through with that tonight. We put them out of system with our serving. We didn't give them points because we (didn't) make errors at the service line."
In the fourth frame with the Bulldogs up two sets to one, the teams exchanged minor leads until they sat tied at 17. Three Hettinger-Scranton mistakes and a kill from Ashlynn Dix put the Bulldogs up 21-17, the largest lead of the game. The Night Hawks added two more points, but with a tremendous block from Dix, Bowman County pulled off the third, and arguably most exciting, upset of the tournament.
"I just had this goal at the beginning of the year to get to the third day of the region tournament and I just got an adrenaline rush and it kicked in and I guess from there, I got my goal," Dix said.
The junior finished the night with a team-leading four blocks, as well as nine kills, five digs and an ace.
"We had Ashlynn set up to be an outside hitter ... and we moved Ashlynn over and she's been working hard at trying to figure out how to put that block up, how to read when is a good time to set the ball up so she can get back in transition to get a hit," Holecek said. "She's really come through for us there."
Back-to-back kills from senior middle hitter Ellie Stafford turned a 6-5 deficit into a 7-6 advantage in the second frame. From there, the Bulldogs took over, leading by as much as 16-10 before the Night Hawks got back in it.
A kill from junior outside hitter Alyssa Andress and an ace from junior setter Talia Carter put the Night Hawks within one, 19-18, at which point Holecek called timeout.
After the meeting, the Bulldogs went on a 6-1 run for the 25-19 win, sealed with a dig by senior defensive specialist Shelby Schmalz, a set by junior Jill Svihovec and the swing by Stafford. Stafford paced Bowman County with 21 kills and aided with 18 digs and a block.
No doubt realizing they would need to dig deeper to come out with a win, the Night Hawks started the third set strong, holding a small but steady lead. As she did the night before, Andress led the attack. She slammed down 15 kills, while senior right side Abbie Kludt contributed seven. Kludt led the team with 27 digs, as well as 21 assists.
The Bulldogs met the Night Hawks at 10 points a piece and the teams were tied three more times throughout the middle of the frame. A kill from junior outside hitter Elise Fischer, a tip from Stafford and an ace from Dix put the Bulldogs up 18-15.
In the waning moments of their chance at a championship, the Night Hawks did all they could, earning crucial points from a Kludt left-handed kill and a block from sophomore Sam Oase, but ultimately, the mistakes added up.
"I don't know that we utilized Sam as much as we should have," Eaton said. "Our serve receive was the roughest tonight it's been in a while. Those two things are kind of difficult to overcome. If you don't have a pass, you don't have an offense, and Bowman did a great job of being consistent all the way around."
The Bulldogs move on to play No. 1 Dickinson Trinity in the region championship on Thursday, Nov. 8 at 6:30 p.m. The teams last squared off just over two months ago on Sept. 6, as the Titans came out victorious 3-0. The Bulldogs have won eight of their last nine contests, though and carry momentum into the final.
"These girls all season long, all season long, if I put a job in front of them, they will get it done," Holecek said. "And they really proved that tonight and they're just phenomenal and it was just a great game."
No. 3 Bowman County 3, No. 2 Hettinger-Scranton 1
BC 23 25 25 25 - 3
HS 25 19 21 19 - 1
Kills: HS, Alyssa Andress 15, Abbie Kludt 7, Sam Oase 6, Briana Sanford 5, Bailee Pierce 4, Quinn Mellmer 1, Kaitlin Jahner 1. BC, Ellie Stafford 21, Ashlynn Dix 9, Abby Smyle 6, Jill Svihovec 3, Elise Fischer 3, Kira Irons 1, Maury Burke 1.
Blocks: HS, Oase 3, Andress 2, Jahner 1. BC, Dix 4, Irons 3, Stafford 2, Smyle 2.
Aces: HS, Talia Carter 3, Mellmer 1, Carolyn Shultz 1. BC, Fischer 2, Amy Jeffers 1, Smyle 1, Dix 1.
Digs: HS, Kludt 27, Shultz 19, Mellmer 12, Andress 10, Beth Lien 5, Oase 3, Sanford 2. BC, Burke 23, Stafford 18, Svihovec 17, Irons 8, Fischer 7, Shelby Schmalz 6, Smyle 6, Dix 5.
Assists: HS, Kludt 21, Carter 11, Shultz 3, Andress 2, Sanford 1. BC, Svihovec 31, Stafford 1, Smyle 1, Burke 1, Schmalz 1.
Records: HS, 28-7-1. BC, 22-10.