Already losing to No. 2 seed Champlin Park (24-6) in the regular season, third seeded Blaine (23-6) appeared ready to return the favor in the Section 5AA semifinal Oct. 30.
The teams split the open sets and Blaine built a 2-1 advantage by winning set three 25-21 in the game played at Osseo High School. Champlin Park came back to win the final two sets by a collective four points, 25-23 and 17-15, to end Blaine’s season.
Bengals coach Celeste Gorman felt the team was prepared for the rematch.
“We felt confident,” she said. “We knew it would be tough and had to play our best. We knew we had to give everything.”
Standout seniors Lydia Dimke and Jessica Jorgenson had 31 and 19 kills, respectively.
Dimke, a Purdue University-recruit, tried to do as many things for the Bengals as humanly possible from serving up aces, setting teammates, reaching tough digs and, of course, thunderous attacks.
She had 21 set assists, 19 digs, four serve receives, three aces and two blocks.
Jorgensen had six total blocks and three of the team’s four solo blocks.
Junior setter Rebecca Hawkins had a team-high 30 set assists, 20 digs and three ace serves.
Three other seniors contributed to the team with big efforts including Allison Briski with a team-high 22 digs and 17 receives, while McKayla Berres had 16 digs and Katelyn Hockert had two blocks.
Juniors Sydney Miller led the Bengals with 23 serve receives and Ellen Anderson added 19 receives to show that the Bengals will continue to have a promising future.
Blaine took a 2-0 set lead in the first meeting of the season before Champlin Park won the final three sets (25-20, 25-21 and 15-10) to upset one of the top-ranked teams in the state on its home court inside the Blaine Fieldhouse Sept. 24.
Champlin Park coach John Yunker said his team learned that it could play with Blaine and the confidence level took off after the first meeting.
“We knew [Blaine] was still a very good team, but we also knew that we could play with them and that’s something Champlin Park hasn’t had before and honestly going into [Oct. 30]’s match I don’t know if they felt the same way,” he said.
“To pull it off up there, it gave us some confidence that we could play against this team, one of the best in the state. It was a big match for us early in the year.”
According to Gorman, learning their defense from the first meeting and watching video, “we knew the different ways we could score against them.”
“They’ve got three kids they go to primarily and we knew we would need to be prepared for them,” Gorman said.
Senior Mariya Sampson (22 kills, 13 digs) for Champlin Park, freshman Sidney Hilley (33 sets, 17 kills, 12 digs) and sophomore Janae Alderson (nine kills).
Blaine entered the section semifinal on a four-game winning streak, including a 3-1 win over No. 6 seed Totino-Grace in the section opener Oct. 24.
The Bengals beat Eden Prairie, Anoka and St. Michael-Albertville to close out the regular season. STMA also lost its semifinal match to Osseo 3-0 in the other section semifinal.
Thursday’s match was close from the opening serve. Neither side led by more than two points in the first set until Champlin Park pulled ahead 17-14 to force Gorman to take a time out.
Champlin Park broke a 13-13 score and went on a 12-4 run to close out the opening set on a high note.
“There are different swings within each match but I felt like we were mentally strong and put ourselves in a position to do good things,” Gorman said.
Blaine hit as a .240 rate, 23 percentage points below the season average and had 22 hitting errors nearly double the season average (11.3). The Bengals were able to convert more serves (94.3 percent or 4.6 percent higher than the season average).
They also produced a season-high 99 digs and 95 serve receives.
Blaine came alive in the second set, leading 7-3 thanks to Hawkins’ kill shot to induce a Rebels time out.
Anderson scored the first of three ace serves to make it 11-6 and kept the rally going serving up five more points to lead 15-6.
Despite a valiant comeback attempt by Champlin Park, Blaine stayed a couple steps ahead and won the sets on one of several booming cross-court kill shots by Bengals senior captain Lydia Dimke. Blaine evened the match 1-1.
Blaine appeared to be ready to take control of the contest with another strong start, 6-3, in the third set. Champlin Park wouldn’t go away that quickly and kept the score within reach until the final point. Blaine led 23-18 before Blaine senior Jessica Jorgensen ended the set with a hit that deflected off a would-be Rebels blocker for the point and a 2-1 set lead.
One loss from ending the season, Champlin Park came through with a huge win in set four. The Rebels led 15-10 but Dimke served up a huge dipping serve over the net for Blaine to tie the set at 22, then Jorgensen followed up a Dimke serve with her own powerful kill shot for a 23-23 tie.
But back-to-back long hits sailed over the back line and out of bounds to give the Rebels the fourth set at 25-23.
Champlin Park lost standout Sampson to a knee injury leading 21-20. She never returned to the court but that didn’t seem to affect the Rebels. Yunker said afterwords that he was proud of the way the team regrouped and focused on winning the match.
Despite losing the top hitter, Champlin Park continued to ride the wave of adrenaline taking a 3-0 lead in set five after Crymble and Peyton Stutelberg blocked Dimke’s attack attempt.
The Rebels led 7-3, but Dimke scored another ace serve to tie the set at 12-12 to force a Rebels time out.
Out of the break, Dimke perfectly set up Jorgensen to give Blaine its first lead, 13-12, in the fifth and decisive set. Jorgensen finished off another attack for two set and match points at 14-12. Miscommunication among the Bengals front line allowed the ball to drop to the floor between a group of players to tie the set at 14-14, but Blaine retook the lead at 15-14 after a serve into the net for the side out. After a long rally a Bengals player hit the ball into the antenna on the net for an immediate side out and once again a tied score at 15.
Rebels sophomore Janae Alderson split the Bengals block to make it 16-15, then Champlin Park won the set, the match and Blaine’s season on an attack shot that tipped off the hands of a Bengals player.
“I felt we played with a ton of heart and worked hard,” Gorman said.
After the second win over the Bengals this season, Yunker said the win was another milestone. “It’s a big, big step for our program,” he said. “This team has already accomplished so many things that haven’t been done for a long time at Champlin Park.
“Now we’re trying to take that next step to being the new Champlin Park volleyball. This is great to build off for next year no matter what happens [in the section final against Osseo].”
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