HIBBING — It was a momentous occasion at Dick Varichak Gymnasium Wednesday.
Since the junior college system changed the name of their colleges to the Minnesota North, no athletic team had yet to play each other.
That changed when Minnesota North-Hibbing and Minnesota North-Mesabi Range hooked up in a Northern Division contest, and when it was said and done, the Lady Norse came away with a 3-1, 23-25, 25-15, 25-10, 25-15 win over the Cardinals.
So what did it mean to be the first teams to play under the new system?
“I think we are the first two to square off,” Mesabi Range coach Sara Matuszak said. “It’s the first time for us playing another Minnesota North team. It’s always a rivalry with Hibbing.”
That’s the way Cardinal coach Kasey Palmer looked at it.
“It really didn’t have an effect on me,” Palmer said. “It’s still Hibbing vs. Mesabi. It’s still our rivalry. It’s up there like that. I didn’t feel any different being that we’re sister colleges now.
“That’s how I felt, but it was nice to advertise it as the, ‘Battle of the Minnesota North Colleges.’”
It would be Hibbing that would take the first set of the contest, taking advantage of numerous Lady Norse unforced errors.
“We came in and made a lot of errors,” Matuszak said. “We had 15 errors in the first game, missed serves, hits out-of-bounds. We literally couldn’t do anything right. It was a little bit of nerves.”
Everything clicked for Hibbing.
“We’re still coming off of not playing a lot of games yet together, but in the first set, we were ready for them,” Palmer said. “After that, we got into a few down slumps. Our communication started to get lower. We had a couple of bad serve receives.
“We stopped meshing together as a team. One or two individuals tried taking over, instead of all six working together. We did have a lot of great things come out of this, especially in game one, but I don’t think they expected us to take a set from them.”
After that, it was all Mesabi Range, and Kaelyn Kudis, who finished with 18 kills, four blocks, 16 digs and two aces.
“Kaelyn had a lot of pressure on her,” Matuszak said “She’s the best hitter on our team, with the most power. Coming into this game we worked on diversifying the offense and getting our other girls involved.
“We knew teams were going to be setting their defense for her. She had some nice kills, but she made some errors. Other girls stepped it up and got it done. We cleaned it up in sets two, three and four.”
That was the strategy for Palmer’s team, only they couldn’t contain Kudis.
“We knew going into it that she’s going to be their best hitter,” Palmer said. “She was going to get a lot of balls, and she was going to hit it hard, harder than anybody that we’ve seen yet this year.
“We also knew that being so close that she’d have a lot of family to help amp her up. Our blocking couldn’t quite get there to get a few touches, which we were hoping for a few more. It’s not that we thought we could stop her, but we were hoping to contain her a little bit better than we did tonight.”
By sets three and four, the Lady Norse were rolling, both offensive and defensively.
“We had to clean up our serving and hitting,” Matuszak said. “They came out tipping and rolling. We were expecting them to hit deep, and they came short. We cleaned up our defense, and we got our hitters to stop worrying about killing the ball, blowing it up. We wanted them to hit it to a spot on the court.
“We took a little bit off the ball, but we placed it better. It worked out for us.”
The Cardinals got into a tipping game, but Mesabi Range was able to defend the entire floor.
“I wouldn’t say that was the game plan, but we know we’re not going to outswing anybody,” Palmer said. “I have a couple of girls that can hit it decently, but sometimes we go into a few slumps.
“I thought we actually hit better than I’ve seen over the past weekend. We’re not quite running the offense we want to be yet, so I know we can still do better. We also know that we’re going to have to have placement instead of hard swings. We won’t outswing anybody, that’s for sure.”
Aside from Kudis, Mesabi Range was led by Johanna Westby with 11 kills, 16 digs, three blocks and two aces; Kylee Huusko with 12 kills, five digs and one block; Laruen Lautiger 39 assists, four aces and 10 digs; Abbigail Shuster 15 digs and two aces; Steph Zimmer seven digs; Jazzlynn Svaleson four kills, two aces and seven digs; and TeAriana Lymon-Jackson two blocks.
Two Harbors 0
TWO HARBORS — The Bluejackets got four goals from Peyton Taylor en route to the road victory over the Agates Wednesday.
Grant Price, Austin Pierce and Matthew Rowland each had two goals, and getting one each were Julien Fisher, Nico Cianni, Luke Pocquette, Sam Gabardi and Zander Cuffe.
Taylor also had four assists. Getting two each were Price, Pierce and Adam Reckmeyer.
Drew Forer had three saves to get the win in goal for Hibbing/Chisholm.