High school sports playoffs don’t always turn out according to form, but if this year’s volleyball postseason follows the seeded script fans could be in line for some classic section matches.
With the rise of Proctor as a Northland power, Section 7AA has overcome the loss of Greenway dropping down a class to set up a possible championship clash between the Rails and defending state champion North Branch.
Both teams received top seeds in their respective subsections and head into this week’s playoffs on a roll.
Lake Superior Conference champion Proctor (23-2) split meetings with No. 2 seed Hermantown — the 2-1 Proctor Invitational loss being the Rails’ only defeat in the last 18 matches — but hasn’t faced North Branch (23-4) this season.
“It’s really exciting that there’s a chance that Proctor volleyball, for the first time ever, has a great shot at making it to state,” Rails coach Anna Sederski said Tuesday. “It’s going to be a challenging race the next couple weeks.”
Hitters Sam Pogatchnik and Peyton Rodberg and setter Gabby Jauhola have excelled all season for Proctor, which earned a bye in today’s opening round and will play either Virginia or Hibbing on Friday.
“We’re feeling good,” Sederski said. “Everyone has the same mentality that we want this and know we are going to have to come out and perform at our best at the beginning of every set.”
Count Hermantown coach Sue Wasbotten as among those excited to see Proctor back after nearly 20 years as a non-contender.
“It’s fun that Proctor has become our new rival. It brings back memories of the ’80s when it was always a lot of fun to play them,” said Wasbotten, who would like to meet the Rails for a third time this season since it can only happen in the section final. “I would definitely take that.”
To get that far, the Hawks (18-9) likely would have to beat North Branch in the semifinals.
The Vikings are coming off two defeats in a tournament at St. Michael-Albertville, but return most of their state title team. That includes outside hitter Cianna Selbitschka, who has committed to play at Minnesota Duluth.
“North Branch is still the team to beat since they are the defending state champ,” Wasbotten said. “I would hope we get another crack at North Branch and let the chips fall.”
The Hawks’ main drawback is being vertically challenged. Top hitter Alana Mayry stands only 5-foot-6.
“There are days it would be a great game with North Branch and then there’s days where it wouldn’t be so great,” Wasbotten said. “We just don’t have the height so we have to come up with other ways (to win) like defense and communication.”
Carlton, Greenway on collision course
To nobody’s surprise, Carlton (24-2) and Greenway (22-4) each head into the Section 7A playoffs as the top seed in their respective subsections.
That means, barring any upsets, the schools would meet in the section final Nov. 2.
“If they get that far and we get that far, it should be a really good game,” Carlton coach Barb Soukkala said.
That doesn’t mean the match is set in stone.
Teams such as Ely (23-3) and Cromwell-Wright (18-5), which are seeded second, should be competitive, but it might be a stretch for any team to displace the expected Carlton-Greenway final.
The Bulldogs snapped a two-year run of losses in section finals in 2018 to capture the 7A title and qualify for their fifth state tournament.
With veteran seniors Abby and Brynne Mickle, Taylor Nelson and Alaina Bennett all back, Carlton doesn’t need to worry about playoff jitters.
“Having the experience of the last three years of being in the section final … they have that calmness and know what they have to do,” Soukkala said. “They play well together and know what they’re supposed to do. They see the court so well and step up for every game.”
In their way of a repeat, potentially, is the Northland’s top hitter in Greenway junior Claire Vekich, who is averaging 5.7 kills per set.