Viking volleyball saves season in five-set win
Just when it looked like the North Branch volleyball season was coming to a premature end Friday night, the Vikings spun a 180 for a three-consecutive set win over Duluth East.
The Vikings, which earned the three seed in Section 7AAA, hosted the eleventh-seeded Greyhounds for what looked to be an easy-enough win.
But Duluth East came out with a vengeance and capitalized on a struggling North Branch squad at the end of the first set. While the Vikings earned a quick lead and cushion in the opening set, where they were up 22-18, the Greyhounds refused to go away, calling a timeout and icing North Branch senior Cassie Doerr on the serve. It didn’t work, as North Branch earned a point off a hit in the net by the visiting team.
But miscommunication, overpasses and a kill by Duluth East haunted the high seed, which lost the lead as they fell behind 24-23. Despite a timeout by North Branch, the Greyhounds marked an ace to zone one for the winning point.
In set two, a head-to-head battle ensued until Duluth East jumped to a 10-5 lead behind power outside hitter Mandy Kurosky, who ended up recording 24 kills and 17 digs on the night. Kurosky would continue to hammer away at the North Branch defense for a 25-12 Greyhound win in set two.
The Vikings started slow again in the third set, falling to a 15-5 deficit.
Head coach Mike Selbitschka called a timeout.
“I said, ‘Alright, here it is girls: 10 more points and our season is done,”’ Selbitschka said. “You’re going to have to play with your heart—we need to keep our emotions in check and fight for every point. Fight for every point.”
The timeout and tough serving performances by junior Maddy Kunshier and junior Hannah Hubbard jumpstarted a 14-2 run to put the Vikings in the lead, 19-17. North Branch took it from there to win 25-22, and went on to win decisively in the fourth set, 25-16.
Both teams came out fighting in set five. While tied at 11, Duluth East went up 12-11 off a North Branch pass into the net. Junior middle hitter Katy Trunk tied things up again with a tip kill to the middle of the court off a quick set. Sophomore Courtney Selbitschka and Trunk stuffed a Greyhounds hitter for a block kill to take the lead at 13-12, but another ball in the net evened the score at 13 moments later.
Selbitschka came up big again by swinging away on the outside for a stinging kill down the line to go up 14-13. With Trunk back to serve, the Greyhounds would hit into the net to seal the home section win for the Vikings.
Courtney Selbitschka proved invaluable for the Vikings on offense, tallying 31 kills and seven aces. Trunk was also strong on the net with 12 kills, while sophomore setter Morgen Coleman racked up 25 set assists and three kills.
Doerr recorded 18 digs in the back row, while Maddy Kunshier added 16 digs to accompany three kills and three aces.
Mike Selbitschka said the difference from the start of the match to the end was passing.
“We couldn’t get our middles involved since we had no pass,” Selbitschka said. “But once we picked up speed there was no stopping Cassie Doerr or Cassie Kunshier (sophomore) in that back row; they made some big diving saves for us.”
The head coach also attributed the win to the atmosphere in the stands.
“Once we flipped the switch in that third set, the energy from the crowd, bench and floor just changed the energy in the entire place,” Selbitschka said. “Those girls won’t ever forget that game. For those who stayed to watch, well, they got a show.”
The five-set win extended North Branch’s season to the Section 7AA semifinals. The Vikings travel to second-seeded Grand Rapids for a 7 p.m. game today. If North Branch wins, they play in the section final Nov. 2, 7 p.m.