Blaine clinches section volleyball crown; sets sight on unfinished business at state

by Bob San
Sports Editor Osseo/Maple Grove Press

The Blaine Bengals are returning to the state volleyball tournament and they are determined to take care of some unfinished business at the St. Paul Excel Energy Center this week.

Blaine players cheer as the final point goes to the Bengals as well as the section title. Photo by Bob San

Last year, the Bengals entered state as the No. 1 seed but lost both matches to Hutchinson and Owatonna. Coach Celeste Gorman said her team wants to make amends this time around.

“Unfinished business means going to state and taking care of business when we are there because we don’t feel like we did that last year,” said Gorman, who is coaching Blaine to state for the fourth time in eight season. “So we are one step closer to our goal. We want to win down there. We don’t want to just get there. We want to win there.”

Blaine earned a return trip to state with a 24-26, 25-17, 25-18 and 25-13 victory over Osseo in the section final at Anoka last Saturday.

Osseo led by three, four points throughout the first game. Blaine made a late run to earn game point at 24-23. But Osseo’s Phillis Webb and Megan Pekarek combined on a block kill to tie it 24-24 and the Orioles won the next two points on Blaine passing errors to win 26-24.

“Osseo took one game from us last time we played them,” Gorman said. “It was the same story back in September as it was tonight, too many errors. They took advantage of it, which good teams will do that. So we need to make sure we take care of our errors going forward.”

“In the first game we came out aggressive,” Osseo coach Bill Quan said. “After that Blaine found their rhythm, their ball control improved and their hitters got their rhythm too. I give them a lot of credits. They are a great team with weapons all over the place, great ball control, good hitters and one of the best setters in the state, too.”

All-state setter Lydia Dimke gave Blaine the spark it needed in game two. The Purdue-bound Dimke went to the serving line midway in the close game and fired five straight service aces to put Blaine in control.

The Orioles were rattled by Dimke’s thundering jump serves and never really recovered their first-game form. The Bengals went on to win game two and cruised to take games three and four.

“She sure did spark us,” Gorman said of Dimke. “She put us on a nice little run there. A couple of times may be she didn’t score right away but she certainly got them out of their system and got them where they were uncomfortable. She has more aces than anyone in the state. She is a premier server that’s for sure. She is something special.”

Dimke added the new jump serve to her repertoire this season and the results have been phenomenal.

“Serving is one of the key elements in the game so every time I go back there I focus and say I am going to get this ball on the court,” Dimke said. “This is my first season of jump float serve and I have found it really successful so I have continued with it. Today I felt the flow and rhythm. It was working well.”

That’s bad news for the Orioles. After Dimke provided the spark, the rest of the Blaine team found its rhythm as well. The Bengals started to move well, pass well and hitters such as Katherine Hawkins, Taylor Morgan and Jessica Jorgensen got hot and the Bengals breezed through the final two games.

“I am thrilled with how this team came back and they have continued to come back,” Gorman said. “They do it consistently. They get challenged and they rise to the challenge. We are happy with how they finished. This is definitely one of the pieces of the puzzle that we want to take care of this year. Getting here has been quite the journey. This is a tough Osseo team and we have seen some tough teams along the way so we are really happy with what happened here today.”

Gorman feels her team is battle-tested after a grueling regular season schedule and can contend in the state tournament.

“I feel like we can play with anybody,” Gorman said. “I feel like the teams who have been there we have beaten all of them. Lakeville North is the only team in the state we haven’t seen.”

Dimke is excited to be returning to state and knows that this team is better prepared to handle the pressure-packed tournament.

“Last year we went to state and we didn’t have the greatest games, so this time we are going to finish our unfinished business and take it home at state,” Dimke said. “Last year was the first time we had been at state for a long time so it was kind of new and we had a lot of jitters. This time we are more prepared for it.”