NASHWAUK — The first year Jessica Noonan took over the Nashwauk-Keewatin High School volleyball program (2009), the Spartans advanced into the Section 7A semifinals.
Since that time, Nashwauk-Keewatin hasn’t been as fortunate, with some early exits from the playoffs.
That has changed in 2022.
The Spartans have ended that 13-year hiatus by advancing into the Section 7A semifinals after a 3-1, 26-24, 14-25, 25-16, 26-26 victory over Chisholm Friday at the Nashwauk-Keewatin High School Gymnasium.
There’s a different feeling permeating through the Nashwauk-Keewatin program this season, and success has followed.
“This is good for our school and community,” Noonan said. “Looking in the stands tonight, I saw a lot of faces that I haven’t seen for a long time. It’s good to see the support from everywhere.”
The Spartans gave their fans something to cheer about in set No. 1.
The Bluestreaks were dominating the first game, and led 21-15.
It looked like Chisholm might take a 1-0 lead, but Nashwauk-Keewatin started to rally.
The Bluestreaks were leading 24-23, when the the Spartans scored the last three points to steal the game away from Chisholm.
That changed the complexion of the match.
“That was tough,” Chisholm coach Pam Pioske said. “We got comfortable, and we shouldn’t have been. Nashwauk is a good team, a scrappy team. Even though we had the lead, we had to make sure that we finished it.
“We didn’t finish it.”
Noonan wasn’t too worried about it because she knows her team has been doing some good things this season.
“My girls like to dig deep, and sometimes, they play harder coming from behind,” Noonan said. “I knew we weren’t out of it until it was over.”
The Spartans didn’t take advantage of that momentum in the second set.
Chisholm turned the tables on Nashwauk-Keewatin and stormed to that 11-point win.
“We did play better,” Pioske said. “They realized that they had to play tougher, and complete the game all the way through. That’s the one thing we talked about. Just because you have a lead doesn’t mean you have it in the bag.
“You have to make sure that you’re earning it all of the way through to the end.”
The Spartans learned a valuable lesson in that set.
“Our girls realized after that game that they needed to step it up a notch and keep that high intensity the entire time,” Noonan said.
Nashwauk-Keewatin needed to change its intensity level, but Noonan also changed her lineup in set three, and that paid dividends.
“It was important that we went into that set with the momentum we needed,” Pioske said. “They changed their lineup, and it worked to their benefit because we didn’t have our big blocker on Addy (Gangl) anymore.
“That hurt us.”
Noonan had to do it out of necessity.
“Our veteran setter injured herself last week, so she got sore and tired during that second set,” Noonan said. “We had to switch it up, and it helped quite a bit. We also started talking and moving.
“The girls gained a little confidence in themselves by talking to each other on the floor.”
The Spartans went on to win by nine, taking a 2-1 lead, then it set No. 4, the Spartans rolled out to a 17-10 lead.
Now it was Chisholm’s turn to rally.
It took awhile, but the Bluestreaks finally started making a move, tying it 24-24
“It was frustrating because we weren’t hitting the ball anymore,” Pioske said. “We weren’t hitting it hard. We weren’t placing the ball. After a timeout, we talked about it. They went back out there and started hitting it.
“That brought more energy. They were dead on their feet, so they needed to get moving on that.”
The Spartans were reeling. They started playing tentatively, so Noonan called a timeout to get her team back on track.
“When I brought them in for the timeout, I said, ‘You guys have to pretend that we are doing whatever drills we do in practice, and you have three shuffle killers on the line,’” Noonan said. “That’s the kind of intensity they needed to have out there.
“I told them that they needed to get that mental toughness and focus out there, and get one.”
Nashwauk-Keewatin never fell behind, scoring the final two points on a missed serve and a kill.
“It feels good,” Noonan said. “I’m proud of these girls.”
Chisholm was led by Abby Duchene with seven kills and five digs; Amya Dobis-Fontaine 10 digs; Lola Huhta 13 kills, one block, 26 digs and two aces; Hannah Kne 40 assists and 15 digs; Jaicee Koehler eight kills; Ava Silvestrini four kills and 17 digs; Gabby Walters 21 digs; and Olivia Hutchings nine kills and one block.
Chisholm ends the season with a 17-8 record.
“They’re a good group to work with, fun to work with,” Pioske said. “They have great attitudes. They tend to giggle and laugh way too much, but when you look at high-school sports, it should be that way.
“It should be about having fun, having a good time. When you look back when you’re older, you’re not going to remember what your team record was. You will remember who you played with, and how much fun you had in this sport.”
Nashwauk-Keewatin was led by Claire Clusiau with 11 kills and two aces; Jayla Larcom three blocks and two kills; Gangl six blocks and 15 kills; Ava Gangl 17 assists and four kills; Emma Jensen six kills; and Careese Milstead 10 assists.
COLERAINE — The Raiders got 13 kills, eight digs and four aces from Kyra Williams en route to the 3-0, 25-15, 26-24, 25-18 Section 7AA quarterfinal win over the Gobblers Friday in Karen Tomberlin Gymnasium.
Lexi Hammer had 28 assists and three kills; Miranda Gernander four kills and 13 digs; Ava Johnson nine kills and eight digs; Klara Finke four kills and one block; Lydia Johannen five blocks; and Jocelyn Mikulich 13 digs.
HERMANTOWN — The Hawks ended the Bluejackets’ season with the 25-10, 25-15, 25-9 Section 7AAA quarterfinal-round victory Thursday.
No other information was available on the game.