VIRGINIA — The Virginia volleyball team always found themselves within striking distance Tuesday night against visiting Hermantown.
But while they played the Hawks close, the Blue Devils couldn’t find a way to get over the hump as they were swept 3-0 (25-21, 25-17, 25-22) against a tough Section 7AA opponent.
Opening things up in the first set, a trio of Virginia errors to start the contest gave Hermantown an early 3-0 advantage. The Devils took one point back on a Hawks error, but a tip point for Hermantown and a point off a Blue Devil error put Hermantown up 5-1 to start.
Some active play at the net helped Virginia even things up, however, as kills from Lexiss Trygg and Maya Carlson, as well as a couple of tip points at the net tied things up at six early in the set.
The versatile Hermantown offense began working their plays through the arms of seniors Katelyn Nordby and Addie Peterson to some solid success. Trailing 12-8, Virginia answered back with kills from Alosha Ranum, Elsie Hyppa and Carlson to make it a 13-11 game.
Hermantown started to pull away from here with back-to-back kills from Peterson and a point off a Virginia error forcing the Devils to take a timeout trailing 16-11.
Working all over the court, Virginia setter Macy Westby put up some nice opportunities for Ranum and Hyppa, who managed to find the gaps for a few more Blue Devil points, making it 16-13.
Hermantown wouldn’t let it get any closer than that however, as two more Peterson kills, a kill from Megan Menzel and a tip point from Bailee Hess put the Hawks up 20-13.
The Devils did manage to chip away at the lead one last time thanks to a stretch that saw two aces, a kill and a block from Trygg, but the Hawks answered with three kills from Nordby in their final five points to take the set, 25-21.
Trygg opened the second set up with a kill and the Devils doubled their lead with an ace from Carlson shortly after. The two teams traded errors for a few points before Hermantown’s Hess put down a block to knot things up three.
Three straight Blue Devil errors forced a timeout from coach Jenessa Greenly, but the Hawks stayed strong following the break with Hess putting down another block and Ella Meier scoring on a kill to extend the lead to five, 8-3.
Virginia answered with a block from Trygg and an ace from Hyppa, but the Hermantown offense used a wide array of weapons to keep the Devils on their toes.
Trailing 11-9 later in the set, Virginia let the Hawks expand their lead during a 7-2 Hermantown stretch that saw kills from Kennedy Barrett, Peterson, Hess and Menzel to make it an 18-11 game. The seven-point deficit forced another Blue Devil timeout.
Virginia started the work of chipping away at another lead and grabbed tip points from Ranum, Trygg and Westby in a stretch that made it 20-17, but Hermantown rattled off five straight points from there — four of them on Virginia errors — to secure the second set, 25-17.
The third set was the closest between the two teams all evening as Trygg went point for point with Hess and Barrett, making it an 11-11 game through 22 points. Virginia errors slowly let the Hawks break open a lead, however, as the Devils’ chances were wasted on hitting and serving errors.
A Menzel kill made it 18-14 Hermantown, but Virginia’s Rian Aune responded with a kill of her own to keep it within three. Back-to-back Nordby kills expanded the Hawks lead to five, but Virginia took advantage of some rare Hermantown errors and a kill from Hyppa to stay in the game, 21-18.
Ranum and Trygg gave Virginia their last two kills of the night as the final Virginia comeback attempt was stifled on a serving error, giving the final set to Hermantown 25-22, and the match 3-0.
Trygg led the way in kills for Virginia with 11, while Ranum finished with six. Trygg also added 20 digs, two ace serves and a block to her stat line.
Aune led the team in digs with 21. Hailey Chavers added 11 digs. Westby finished the night leading in set assists with 25.
For Hermantown Barrett and Hess split the setting duties with 24 and 16 assists apiece. Nordby and Menzel led in kills with seven and five, respectively. Menzel finished with 19 digs, Hess added four blocks and Camryn Slattengren tallied 18 digs of her own.
On the balanced offensive Hermantown attack, Virginia coach Jenessa Greenly said she expected a historically good team like Hermantown to come prepared.
“They’re a good team,” Greenly said. “They always come ready to play and we know we’d have our work cut out for us. Our girls worked their butts off and we had a couple of long volleys but we couldn’t pull it together in the right moments. Overall, I thought we handled them well, but Hermantown is just a good team.”
For the Virginia offense, the Hawks succeeded where Virginia failed: Finding the open gaps.
“We weren’t able to execute on that end tonight. We weren’t hitting our zones like we were supposed to. Not being able to string together a good stretch of offense really hurt us tonight.”
Feeling like they were down by around three or four points for the nearly the entire match, Greenly said part of the battle in volleyball is being able to play the mental game.
“You know that you’re down and in volleyball that really sets the mood. It’s a mental thing and if you don’t get out of it, you’re going to stay down. We were able to dig ourselves out of a few holes but unfortunately we fell back in and things didn’t go our way.”
Staying on top of the mental game was even tougher considering how rarely the Hawks made any errors for Virginia to pounce on.
“You know when they hit the ball that it’s coming hard and they’re not going to be wasting points hitting it into the net. It’s going to be in the court and you have to be ready to do something with it.”
On a day where many decisions were made around the area about not finishing the fall sports season, Greenly said the idea of not being able to finish out the season due to COVID-19 weighs heavily on her team.
“They’re worried. I think they’re worried for themselves and their family and their team, but when it comes down to it they just want to play volleyball and they just want to have a season. So we just have to wait and see. I tell the girls to roll with the punches as they come and just be flexible. If we do that, we’ll be fine.”
With their scheduled Thursday game against Eveleth-Gilbert canceled due to COVID issues down the highway, Virginia won’t be in action again until Monday when they travel to Cloquet.
“They’re a pretty good team. They’re another solid group and we’ll have our work cut out for us once again come Monday.”
Mesabi East 1
At Aurora, things started strong for the Mesabi East volleyball team but the wheels quickly came off as Chisholm hit their stride, downing the Giants 3-1 (10-25, 25-16, 25-8, 25-16).
Abby Thompson led the way for the Bluestreaks, finishing with 25 kills, eight digs and three blocks. Kaija Gams finished with 11 digs. Jordan Temple threw up 39 set assists and put down four digs. Lola Huhta added six kills and eight digs.
For Mesabi East, Lindsey Baribeau led in kills with 10 while tallying three blocks. Aaliyah Sahr finished with 12 digs and six kills. Kadyn Kangas added six kills. Kaitlynn James finished with 31 set assists and four kills and Alexa Fossell tallied 14 digs.
Mesabi East head coach Sara Baribeau said her team played very well off of Chisholm’s errors in the first set, but couldn’t repeat that success afterwards.
“They made errors and we were able to run our offense really well,” Baribeau said. “Then the wheels came off a bit. We had a hard time finding a block for Abby [Thompson] and filtering her hits to where they needed to go for the dig. The block was off tonight and that really changed how we ran our defense.
The third game, our serve receive was a mess. We shanked too many passes and couldn’t control anything and it got away from us from there.”
Mesabi East will be back in action on Thursday when they travel to Mountain Iron. Chisholm will host Deer River, also on Thursday.