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Prep volleyball: Grand Rapids swings away in win over Hermantown

Thunderhawks setter Braya LaPlant had 29 assists and nine kills in the win.

Hermantown’s Elle Jokinen (11) hammers the ball around the Grand Rapids block of Peyton Skelly (17) and Braya LaPlant (11)
Hermantown’s Elle Jokinen (11) hammers the ball around the Grand Rapids block of Peyton Skelly (17) and Braya LaPlant (11) in the first set of the match in Hermantown on Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
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HERMANTOWN — Midway through the second set, Hermantown junior Abbey McCubbin dove for a ball about to hit the floor with her back to the net in the Hawks' match against Grand Rapids Tuesday.

Her dig sailed over the net and a cheer erupted from the Hawks’ faithful, but their joy was short-lived.

After a dig, the Thunderhawks’ Braya LaPlant set up senior Kyra Giffen, who slammed the ball home and silenced the crowd.

“We put in effort after effort and in the big points we were flying all over the place,” Hermantown coach Jessica Williams said. “We’d get the ball back and then all of a sudden, they would get the point. It’s hard for us and our girls to work that hard and still lose that point — that was a huge momentum swing.”

At least two other times during the match, Hermantown would make an astounding play to get the ball back across the net, only for Grand Rapids to respond by winning the point and eventually the match 3-0 (25-22, 25-21, 25-18).

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LaPlant finished with 29 assists and Giffen led the Thunderhawks with 13 kills and nine digs, several coming early in the match to keep the momentum on Grand Rapids' side early on.

Hermantown’s Zoe Bergerson (10) and Emilie Rish (5) try to block a shot by Grand Rapids’ Peyton Skelly (17)
Hermantown’s Zoe Bergerson (10) and Emilie Rish (5) try to block a shot by Grand Rapids’ Peyton Skelly (17) in the first set of the match in Hermantown on Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

“Braya has been my setter for like three years now, so we have a really good connection,” Giffen said. “This is my senior year, so going into every game I have to give it my all, especially at the start of the game because I have to set the tone…I feel relied on to get a few swings and points right away, but instead of being pressured to do that, I feel confident because of mine and Braya’s connection.”

LaPlant is unique for a setter in that she is nearly 6 feet tall and can be an attacking threat as well. The junior also picked up nine kills, most on a move that looks similar to her sets, but instead goes over the net.

“It’s really nice, because when we pass too tight, if she’s front row, she gets a kill,” Grand Rapids coach Rebekah Morris said. “We’re not running a 5-1, we’re running a 6-2 with her as a hitter — she needs to be an attacker. That keeps everybody on their toes and she does a really good job at that…it really adds to our attack power and the other team, they don’t know where it’s going.”

Hermantown senior Emilie Rish led the Hawks with nine kills, while Amari Nunez had 13 set assists and Elle Jokinen finished with 11 digs.

Grand Rapids is the defending Section 7AAA champion and Williams said her coaching staff was concerned her team might be a little tight or even star-struck playing the Thunderhawks.

Grand Rapids’ Kyra Giffen (13) tips the ball over Hermantown’s Alyssa Yokom (15)
Grand Rapids’ Kyra Giffen (13) tips the ball over Hermantown’s Alyssa Yokom (15) in the second set of the match in Hermantown on Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

“We are an energy team,” Williams said. “We got some important points and turned our game around, but they’re just such a smart team and consistent and we didn’t quite have it in us tonight.”

Morris was also happy with the way her team performed in one of their biggest matches of the year so far.

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“I was proud of my girls,” Morris said. “The energy felt like they just knew they were going to do their job and they did, so that was good. I didn’t feel like they were playing afraid or anything, and that’s always nice to see, especially in a big section game.”

Grand Rapids (16-2) will play Greenway at 7 p.m. Thursday in Coleraine.

Hermantown (17-3) will play at Carlton at 7 p.m. Monday.

Hermantown’s Gabriella Arntson (12) enthusiastically celebrates a block with Alyssa Yokom (15)
Hermantown’s Gabriella Arntson (12) enthusiastically celebrates a block with Alyssa Yokom (15) in the first set of their match with Grand Rapids in Hermantown on Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
Grand Rapids’ Colby LaPlant (2) knocks down an overpass in the second game of the match in Hermantown
Grand Rapids’ Colby LaPlant (2) knocks down an overpass in the second set of the match in Hermantown on Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
More from Jamey Malcomb
Hermantown and Grand Rapids are the class of the area — again — and Duluth East hopes to claw its way back to the top of Section 7AA.

Jamey Malcomb has a been high school sports reporter for the Duluth News Tribune since October 2021. He spent the previous six years covering news and sports for the Lake County News-Chronicle in Two Harbors and the Cloquet Pine Journal. He graduated from the George Washington University in 1999 with a bachelor's degree in history and literature and also holds a master's degree in secondary English education from George Mason University.
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