Hibbing, Virginia fall in three straight

ST. PAUL -- Whenever high school sports teams from the Iron Range and the Twin Cities area meet, the team from the Iron Range often has a chip on its shoulder.

ST. PAUL -- Whenever high school sports teams from the Iron Range and the Twin Cities area meet, the team from the Iron Range often has a chip on its shoulder.

That's because some people perceive that Twin Cities schools are better at sports because they have more affluent supporters.

One Iron Range team that traditionally has broken through that stereotype is the Hibbing volleyball team. Over the years, the Bluejackets regularly have competed with -- and defeated -- teams from upscale Twin Cities suburbs.

Thursday featured another of those matchups as Hibbing faced Blaine in a Minnesota Class AAA state quarterfinal match at Xcel Energy Center. This time, however, Hibbing couldn't break through. Blaine won 25-21, 25-23, 25-17 to advance to a semifinal match today against Lakeville North. Hibbing (25-6) meets Marshall (25-6) at 11 a.m. in a consolation semifinal.

"We hurt ourselves with our passing," Hibbing coach Gail Nucech said. "We didn't control the net. The things you have to do to win we didn't do."


Hibbing didn't do much better at hitting. The Bluejackets nearly committed as many errors as kills, finishing with a .013 hitting percentage. Blaine made 42 kills with a .281 hitting percentage.

That was due to quality passing, Bengals coach Celeste Gorman said.

"I thought our passing was phenomenal," Gorman said. "It's gotten better and better as we've gone along, and that was one of our goals. We were able to pass the ball and get our offense going. I'm really proud how we did that."

Gorman, for one, knew the difficulties of facing a Nucech-coached team. A Chisholm native, Gorman played for Mike Ciochetto's Bluestreaks volleyball and basketball teams in high school.

"I grew up playing against Gail," said Gorman, a 1990 graduate. "I don't know if we ever beat them -- I'm pretty sure we haven't -- but we tried to play them tough."

That isn't the only Iron Range connection on Blaine's team. Junior outside hitter Jessica Granquist's mother, Marie, graduated from Hibbing in 1979, when the Bluejackets qualified for the fifth of their record 20 state tournament appearances. Granquist had nine kills and a team-high 13 digs Thursday.

Ari Mewhorter and Kirstin Cook led the Bengals with 11 kills each. Lindsey Baumgartner and Mewhorter combined for nine of Blaine's 18 blocks.

"We did a good job blocking them," said Mewhorter, a 6-foot sophomore.


Blaine broke a 6-6 tie in the first game by going on a 9-1 run. Hibbing never closed the gap to less than three to fall behind.

"That first game is always huge," Mewhorter said.

A six-point run gave Blaine an 8-4 lead in the second game, but Hibbing rallied and took four one-point leads. Back-to-back into-the-net calls and a questionable tip call off a spike gave the Bengals back a lead they didn't surrender.

Blaine capitalized on that momentum by scoring six of the first seven points in game three. Hibbing scored the next five points, but a pair of blocks at the net gave Blaine the lead for good. Baumgartner's tip at the net closed out the match.

"We weren't playing our best," said Hibbing junior middle hitter Chelsea Koth, who led her team with a paltry five kills. "We could have done a lot better. It's almost like we beat ourselves."

With four starters returning and plenty of young talent, the Bluejackets could be back to state next year. This experience might be a bonus at that time.

"I think it will help a lot," Koth said. "We're losing four seniors, but we'll still have four starters. Some of us will have a couple years under our belt with this environment."

Blaine def. Hibbing 25-21, 25-23, 25-17 - B: Ari Mewhorter 11K, 4B; Kirstin Cook 11K, 5AS; Jessica Granquist 9K, 13D; Lindsey Baumgartner 7K, 5B; H: Chelsea Koth 5K; Amber Brant 4AS, 3B; Kelsey Wirtanen 7SA; Nicole Nyberg 7SA; Alia Cook 3AS, 3B.

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