Not many teams get to end their season on a win. The No. 2 Hettinger-Scranton volleyball team is one of them.
After dropping a Region 7 semifinal to Bowman County 3-1 on Tuesday, Nov. 6, the Night Hawks had a chance at redemption in the third place game against No. 5 Heart River on Thursday, Nov. 8. Adding to their impressive list of sweeps, the Night Hawks dismissed the Cougars 3-0, with set scores of 25-23, 25-17 and 25-14, earning third in the tournament at the Knights of Columbus Activities Center.
If limited to one word to describe the 2018 Hettinger-Scranton squad, dominant would be the ideal choice. Of the team's 19 regulation-length contests, they won 16, 12 in three sets. Of the 18 two-set tournament contests, 11 were sweeps.
"We wanted to win so bad," senior outside hitter Briana Sanford said. "(Wednesday's) practice was so fun. We wanted to be one of the teams in the whole state that get to end on a win and that was our mentality."
Set one started in Heart River's favor. After hopping out to a 2-0 advantage, the Cougars stretched their lead to as much as five points. Kills from senior middle hitter Natasha Baranko and junior outside hitter Laken Jacobson brought the lead to 17-12.
"I think we played really good defense at the very beginning, we were really scrappy," Heart River head coach Tessa Sian said. "Then we started slowing down a little bit. We played really well, cohesively."
The lower-seeded squad was four points away from a set win, but five straight points from the Night Hawks put the higher-seeded team in front 22-21.
The Cougars led again in the second, but not for as long. A Jacobson kill put Heart River up 8-7, but the Night Hawks soon tied it back up at 13 before pulling ahead 20-16 with a kill from sophomore middle Sam Oase.
Following Tuesday's loss, the team's first since dropping 3-0 to Dickinson Trinity on Oct. 9, head coach Ria Eaton said her team didn't utilize the 6-foot-1 middle enough.
On Thursday, Oase finished with a team-high three blocks, as well as 11 kills and five digs.
"I think we just talked about making better decisions and once we're in the position to set, who's on, who's off," Eaton said. "Obviously, a lot better game tonight and that has a lot to do with, volleyball, I've always said, starts with the pass. If you don't have the pass, it's really hard to get the rest of it going."
Hettinger-Scranton's success and rhythm started with solid receives and defense in the back row, as junior Carolyn Schultz led the way with 21 digs. Kludt earned a team-leading 18 assists, as well as 14 kills. Sanford contributed 10 kills, as well as two digs and an assist.
"Briana Sanford ... had a really nice tournament to finish on," Eaton said. "I thought she was steady and basically a rock all week. It was good to see it end like that for her."
As for the Cougars, senior McKenzie Buckman put up 21 assists, while junior outside hitter Afton Shypkoski led with three aces and eight kills, while senior outside hitter Katie Keator added six kills. Baranko led the team with a pair of blocks.
"I'm just really proud of my four seniors, Emily (Hlebechuk), Natasha, Katie and McKenzie," said Sian, who took over the Heart River head coach this fall. "They're great leaders, they did a great job for us this season. They pointed out to me, I had no idea that all of them had very little varsity experience. For that, they did very well all the time. I didn't know that, I wouldn't have ever guessed it. They came out this season and played really well."
Of the five seniors, three get regular playing time, however outside hitter Kaitlin Jahner went down with an ankle injury early Thursday.
Eaton put middle hitter Ebony Musonda and defensive specialist Anna Kludt in for periods of the evening, and Abbie Kludt and Sanford teammed up to finish the final frame.
After a seamless set up from Abbie Kludt, Sanford nailed the ball, ending Hettinger-Scranton's 2018 campaign with the bittersweet thud of the ball hitting the hardwood.
"It was awesome," Sanford said. "We hugged each other, we both had tears in our eyes. We've been playing together for seven years, so to finish it off on that was amazing."
Hettinger-Scranton 3, Heart River 0
HR 23 17 14 - 0
HS 25 25 25 - 3
Kills: HR, Afton Shypkoski 8, Katie Keator 6, Laken Jacobson 5. HS, Abbie Kludt 14, Sam Oase 11, Briana Sanford 10, Alyssa Andress 6, Bailee Pierce 2, Quinn Mellmer 2.
Blocks: HR, Natasha Baranko 2. HS, Oase 3, Mellmer 2, Pierce 1, Kludt 1.
Aces: HR, Shypkoski 3, Campbell Clarys 2, Jacobson 1. HS, Mellmer 1.
Digs: HR, Clarys 15, Shypkoski 10, Jocelyn Baranko 9. HS, Carolyn Schultz 21, Andress 12, Kludt 8, Talia Carter 7, Oase 5, Mellmer 4, Anna Kludt 2, Sanford 2.
Assists: HR, McKenzie Buckman 21, Jacobson 1. HS, Kludt 18, Carter 14, Schultz 3, Andress 2, Sanford 1, Mellmer 1.
Records: HR, 22-13-3. HS, 29-7-1.