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NER edged for trip to state

Suddenly red-hot South Ridge ousts top two seeds in quest for 7A title

David Colburn
Posted 11/9/21

HIBBING- The Northeast Range Nighthawks’ bid for a berth in the 7A state volleyball tournament reached the end of the road Saturday in Hibbing, where they lost to South Ridge in the sectional …

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NER edged for trip to state

Suddenly red-hot South Ridge ousts top two seeds in quest for 7A title

Posted

HIBBING- The Northeast Range Nighthawks’ bid for a berth in the 7A state volleyball tournament reached the end of the road Saturday in Hibbing, where they lost to South Ridge in the sectional final 3-1.
Both teams reached the final with wins over the top seeds in the subsection brackets, and with rabid support from a packed section of NER fans, the Nighthawks came out on fire, racing out to a 9-2 lead. But the Panthers, who rallied from a two-set deficit to defeat Ely in the semi-final round, weren’t fazed by a seven-point deficit. A five-point run got them back to within two at 9-7, and the game was a slugfest from there, reaching a tie at 22-22 before South Ridge put the game away 25-22.
“I felt like the whole match was a matter of us always playing catch up,” NER Head Coach Jodi Reichensperger. “It’s 9-2, they get one point, and I felt the energy shift.”
The Nighthawks fell behind early in the second set 11-3 as they had difficulty passing the ball to set up their offense with leading scorer Hannah Reichensperger. NER fought back to within four at 12-8, but a devastating 7-0 run by the Panthers erased any chance of an NER comeback in a 25-14 loss.
“That was our biggest problem, it was our passing,” Reichensperger said. “That is all we have worked on since playoffs started, and we had it. And then we didn’t.”
In a do-or-die third set, the Nighthawks got a scare when Hannah Reichensperger crashed to the floor chasing a ball in the backcourt and opened a gash on her chin that would later require stitches. But with her chin heavily taped, the senior hitter stayed in the match. South Ridge looked to be cruising, up 18-12, but a big block by Maizy Sunblad and Reichensperger rejuvenated NER. A kill by Natalie Nelmark and a service ace by Reichensperger cut the lead to two, 18-16. Strong play at the net vaulted NER into the lead, 21-19, but the Panthers forged a tie at 21-21. Nelmark stepped up big with three consecutive scores, and the Nighthawks stayed alive for another set when the Panthers handed them a 25-21 win by hitting the ball into the net on the final rally.
“That’s what we needed,” said Reichensperger about Nemark’s performance. “She came through when we needed her to come through. Natalie proved that she can handle our front row when Hannah is not in the front row.”
NER battled on, this time getting good production out of Hannah Reichensperger, taking the lead in a tight fourth set and holding it up to 15-14, but South Ridge reeled off five straight points for a 19-15 lead. NER came back to tie the game at 22, but couldn’t get over the hump, falling 25-23 to end their season at 18-10.
There were tears when the match ended, but the loss couldn’t take the shine off what had been a historic run for NER, as it was the first time in Nighthawks volleyball history a team had reached a sectional final.
“At the beginning of the season, my goal was to have a .500 season and I would be okay with that,” Coach Reichensperger said. “I didn’t expect to be in the section final. I don’t think anyone else expected us to be here, either.”
After her final match as a Nighthawk, Hannah Reichensperger had high praise for her teammates and their 18-10 season.
“The growth that we have seen this season is incredible,” she said. “(Reaching) finals is record-breaking. No one in Babbitt has gone to the section finals. We did that. We’re breaking records. I’m so proud of where we made it, and you can see how proud the community is of us that we made it, too.”
NER tops Barnum
NER powered its way into the sectional finals by getting past the section’s overall top seed, 22-3 Barnum, in a Nov. 3 semifinal match in Hibbing.
The Nighthawks took command early in the opening set and never let the Bombers get closer than two points in posting a 25-22 win.
“Last week, we made some changes to our defense, we just needed a tiny little tweak, but they were super comfortable with the change that we made and they executed like they’ve been playing that defense their whole lives,” Reichensperger said.
Barnum settled back into form in the second set, breaking a 5-5 tie and relentlessly pulling away from the Nighthawks for a relatively easy 25-15 win.
“What happened in that second match, we let them control the tempo,” Reichensperger said.
The Nighthawks came back onto the court with a fury, stunning the Bombers with a 13-2 explosion to open the third set. The Bombers then had the Nighthawks on their heels with a run that closed the gap from 18-8 to 18-15, but NER’s Thia Lossing came up with a crosscourt kill that squashed Barnum’s surge and set the stage for a 25-19 win.
When NER broke an 11-11 tie in the tightly contested fourth set, they never trailed again. With good defense, strong net play, and setters feeding Reichensperger and Nelmark, the Nighthawks pulled away to seal the upset with a 25-17 win to advance to the championship.

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