Bengals earn state volleyball medal in thrilling comeback

Unfinished business was more than a motto on Blaine’s warm-up T-shirts.

Blaine players break out into celebration after the final point in a 15-12 final set to beat Shakopee 3-2 and win the Class AAA State third place trophy at Xcel Energy Center Nov. 10. Photo by Jason Olson

The Bengals looked to take the next step in the natural progression of success after finally breaking through to the state tournament last season after a dramatic five-set win over Centennial in the section final. Blaine lost both state matches in 2011.

This year the goal was to win at least one match on the volleyball court at Xcel Energy Center.

Not only did the No. 2-seeded Bengals win its Class AAA quarterfinal match against Bemidji 3-0, but the style in which they commanded the match, after a 26-24 first-set win, had some believing the team could challenge for a state title.

Defending state champion Eden Prairie, along with Ms. Volleyball Award winner Sarah Wilhite, stood between them and the state finals. The Eagles swept Blaine into the third place match, its second such match since 2006.

Blaine volleyball came back from down 0-2 to win the Class AAA state third place trophy 3-2 against Shakopee at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul Nov. 10.
Blaine volleyball came back from down 0-2 to win the Class AAA state third place trophy 3-2 against Shakopee at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul Nov. 10.

Earning state hardware was a realistic goal for Blaine, which faced familiar foe Shakopee for the third place trophy.

After a slow start, Blaine found itself one set away from a fourth place finish.

Instead of conceding defeat, the Bengals fought back to win the next two sets (25-20, 25-21). They completed the comeback with a 15-10 win in the fifth set.

The Bengals trailed 11-8 in the fifth set before a combination of winning hits from sophomore Taylor Morgan, key serves from senior Katherine Hawkins and a emphatic kill from standout junior Lydia Dimke completed the comeback.

“We knew we weren’t going to lose that [final] game,” Dimke said of the confidence to comeback while Hawkins said she wanted to be the one serving at the key point of the match.

Blaine coach Celeste Gorman added to that confidence: “It’s an amazing feeling because I know these girls are capable of a lot more than what we’ve shown all season.”

Errors have been an issue all season and they continued Saturday afternoon. Blaine collected 24 hitting errors in the first two sets and 14 over the final three sets. Shakopee finished with 19 hitting errors.

The message from Gorman before the third set seemed to calm the Bengals. “I just reminded them to have fun and play our game. We were over thinking it and wanted them to get loose and enjoy it and have fun.”

Turning around less than 24 hours after losing a state semifinal wasn’t easy for Blaine.

“It feels good to have a medal round my neck because that was one of the hardest games to come back from with an amazing win,” said senior Alex Brown, who had 23 digs.

Dimke also had 23 digs, 26 set assists, 15 kills and 10 attacking errors.

The Bengals weren’t going to be denied a medal as they out dug Shakopee 103-87. Four players had at least 18 digs, including Brown and Dimke and seniors Sierra Trost (18) and Hawkins with 19.

Blaine won both regular season meetings against the Sabres, both coming at invitational tournaments.

Resiliency was something the Bengals learned this season and even more so between Friday and Saturday.

“We grieved [Friday] and took time to process it and put it in the past but then we all let it go and saw what was in the future and worked for that,” Brown said.

Comparing the 2012 run to 2011, Hawkins, who played with older sister Elizabeth last season and younger sister Rebecca this season, said the team used the 2011 experience as motivation everyday: “I didn’t want to go through that again this year. We trained as hard as we could every day to get back to state.”

“We wanted to come back to state and pretend like we didn’t even lose last year at state and show everyone we came here to play and we’re going to take whatever we can get,” Bengals sophomore middle hitter Taylor Morgan said.

That confidence came through in the state quarterfinal win over Bemidji one day earlier.

“We felt good about the Bemdji game. We took care of the ball, passed well and mixed up our offenses,” Gorman said. “We were confident and up for a battle.”

“It was definitely a mission from the beginning of the season,” Gorman said. “But I don’t think state was on our mind. It was a matter of taking care of business and not leaving business unfinished. We felt like we didn’t finish the season we should have and that left us wanting to take care of business.”

Blaine makes short work in quarterfinal win
The Bengals (30-1) were pushed in the first game, 26-24, but never trailed in the final two games winning 25-11 and 25-19 for its 30th win of the season which took 66 minutes to complete.

Blaine’s Jessica Jorgensen, Lydia Dimke and Taylor Morgan each had 10 kills and Alex Brown added 14 digs. Dimke and Rebecca Hawkins had 16 set assists while the Bengals had a .186 hitting percentage. Dimke and Jorgensen had two block assists each.

Blaine faced No. 3 seed Eden Prairie in the Class AAA semifinals Nov. 9. Lakeville North and Shakopee faced off in the other semifinal.

Winning a game at state was a reasonable goal for Blaine this year. The No. 2 seeded Bengals came into state riding a 20-match winning streak and pushed it to 21 games after a 3-0 win in the state quarterfinals over Bemidji.