Prep volleyball: Hermantown survives five-game thriller to win Section 7AA

Clinging to the Section 7AA championship trophy, Hermantown volleyball coach Sue Wasbotten took a seat on her team's bench Saturday evening at Duluth Denfeld High School.

Hermantown's Jordyn Thomas reacts after the Hawks' thrilling five-game win over Rush City in Saturday's Section 7AA final at Duluth Denfeld High School. Clint Austin /

Clinging to the Section 7AA championship trophy, Hermantown volleyball coach Sue Wasbotten took a seat on her team’s bench Saturday evening at Duluth Denfeld High School.

Wasbotten, coming down from the emotional rollercoaster the Hawks had just ridden, was spent. For the first time this fall, she was forced to endure a fifth game, a fitting conclusion to a scintillating section final vs. Rush City that Hermantown survived 21-25, 26-24, 14-25, 25-23, 15-13 to return to the Class AA state tournament.

“It was our first five-game match of the year, so I said, ‘Why not make it the finals of the section tournament?’ ” Wasbotten joked. “We got out there and gave it our all, and good things happened. It was intense.”

It definitely was.

The Hawks (27-3) dropped the opener, were dismantled in the third game and had to rally in the fourth to stave off elimination. They trailed by as many as four points before reeling in the Tigers (22-4). Rush City appeared to take a 22-20 lead, but a net infraction negated the Tigers’ point, instead forging a 21-21 deadlock. Hermantown’s Sierra Bolen broke the tie by alertly pushing the ball deep, just inside the Rush City end line. Leading 24-23 and with the standing Hermantown fans chanting “Let’s go Hawks,” Bolen hammered home one of senior Jordyn Thomas’ 30 set assists to knot this nailbiter at two games apiece.


The 6-foot-1 junior totaled 16 kills. She displayed power and poise throughout, and had to be especially unnerving for the Tigers when she’d circle around for a running start at a Thomas set. In those instances, the best recourse would seem to be scattering out of the way.

Despite their lack of familiarity with fifth games, the Hawks maintained their free-spirited style entering the decisive game.

“Because we won game four, we were on a high going to the fifth,” Bolen said.

Thomas, who totaled 12 kills and 18 digs, added: “We knew we had the momentum after winning that fourth game. We just had to carry it over.”

Hermantown led 9-4 in the fifth before Rush City reeled off a 7-2 run to draw even. Ellie Gamradt, a 6-2 junior, gave the Hawks a 12-11 edge and, after Rush City’s last gasp made it 14-13, Bolen whistled her final kill to cement Hermantown’s successful defense of its section title.

“They’re a good team and they have some really good hitters - their setter is awesome - but we just needed to get in our groove,” Wasbotten said. “Once we found it, good things started to happen.”

These teams met in the section semifinals a year ago, with the Hawks similarly overcoming a two-games-to-one deficit and using a 10-point run to claim the fifth. Saturday, in front of an energetic crowd that reacted loudly to nearly every point, it was the Tigers unleashing a 10-0 surge. Incidentally, it occurred in game two, which they lost. But it propelled Rush City to a blowout in the third game.

The Hawks, though, responded beautifully. They took their punches, but kept popping right back up.


Jamie Guptill amassed 19 kills to pace Rush City, while Shawna Mell added 15. Both are sophomores, hinting at the Tigers’ bright future.

Rush City coach Eric Telander, who received a yellow card for arguing a call in the fourth game, said his players already are anticipating next year.

“We can’t hang our heads, because we lost five starters from last season, and they just kept going and going,” he said. “Hermantown is a heck of a team.”

The Hawks will find out at this morning’s seedings meeting who they will play in a Class AA quarterfinal Thursday at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.



Grand Rapids 3, Cambridge-Isanti 0



Nineteen wins in 27 matches might not sound like a rocky regular season, but Grand Rapids coach Bryan Fideldy says his team faced some adversity as the coach continuously tweaked his lineup in search of the most effective combination.


It was a season-long process that slowed the Thunderhawks’ quest for consistency.


It’s paying off now.


Grand Rapids (22-8) continued its playoff march Saturday night at Duluth East High School, where Section 7AAA’s fourth seed swept Cambridge-Isanti 25-19, 25-19, 29-27 in a championship match devoid of drama.



“We’ve moved kids around and we’ve experimented with different lineups and different positions, and I think at times it was a tough place for the kids to be in, but they accepted it real well,” Fideldy said moments after Brianna Sutherland’s ace serve punctuated the Thunderhawks’ second section title since 2013. “And I think those little things helped in matches like this.”


Grand Rapids, led by Sutherland’s team-high 12 kills, had been up and down all fall. But the Thunderhawks on Saturday produced their second sweep in as many matches, following a 3-1 win over Anoka in the section quarterfinals.


They absorbed Claire Sheehan’s power at the net while challenging the Iowa commit’s Bluejackets teammates to beat them. Statistics were unavailable for Cambridge-Isanti (16-13), but Sheehan, an outside hitter, made her presence felt. Fideldy joked after that it was almost unfair to try and defend her.


“We tried to control her potential touches, from the way that we served the ball to who we served it to, where we served it,” Fideldy said. “But, realistically, they did a nice job of getting her the ball as much as they could. Fortunately, they didn’t get her the ball when they needed to at the end.”



Sophomore Megan Walsh added nine kills, while junior Marissa Rossi tallied 22 assists.


The Thunderhawks were in control in games one and two before Cambridge-Isanti started strong in the third. Eventually, Grand Rapids tied it at 20-20. From there, the teams traded leads. Twice, the Bluejackets had game point. They couldn’t close it out.

“We never were nervous,” Sutherland, a junior, said. “ We stayed confident and knew we just had to make a run.”

Section 7AAA Championship


Grand Rapids def. Cambridge-Isanti 25-19, 25-19, 29-27 - GR (22-8): Marissa Rossi 22SA, 6D; Brianna Sutherland 2AS, 11D, 12K, 3B; Mara Cameron 3B; Molly Hasbargen 13D; Andrea Markovich 5K, 5B; Megan Walsh 9K; Ali Geislinger 6B; Anneka Harris 5D; Hailee Orhn 5D. CI (16-13): stats not available.

Section 7AA Championship


Hermantown def. Rush City 21-25, 26-24, 14-25, 25-23, 15-13 - H (27-3): Sierra Bolen 16K; Ellie Gamradt 9K, 6B; Jordyn Thomas 12K, 30SA, 18D; Kailey Mihalik 23D. RC (22-4): Bailey Behrendt 4AS, 7D; Jamie Guptill 2AS, 19K, 6B, 16D; Katie McDonald 10D; Kaylyn Bowen 7K, 8D; Shawna Mell 15K, 3B, 20D; Stephanie Braund 4B, 21D; Taylor Williams 39SA, 22D.

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