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Prep volleyball: Hermantown takes advantage of Duluth East errors

New Hawks head coach Jessica Williams is undefeated since she took over from the program following Sue Wasbotten's retirement after 33 years on the bench.

High school girls volleyball match
Gabriella Arntson (12), center, of Hermantown celebrates after scoring a point against Duluth East during a volleyball match Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2022, at Duluth East High School. Hermantown defeated Duluth East 3-1.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — Despite facing a significant deficit in every set except the last, Hermantown’s defenders held off Duluth East at nearly every turn to earn a 3-1 (26-24, 24-26, 27-25, 25-13) win Tuesday.

The Hawks’ Emilie Rish recorded 20 digs to go with her seven kills and Gabi Arntson had two blocks to add to 11 kills in the win. Elle Jokinen led the Hawks with 15 kills.

High school girls volleyball match
Elle Jokinen (11) of Hermantown celebrates after winning a point against Duluth East during a volleyball match Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2022, at Duluth East High School. Hermantown defeated Duluth East 3-1.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

In each of the first three sets, Hermantown trailed by at least four points in the later stages, but rallied to tie or win, taking advantage of Greyhound errors to erase the deficit.

“We are a really high-energy team and I think that plays in our favor,” coach Jessica Williams said. “A lot of times we are really hard on ourselves, we were making mistakes and we know that we need to just get the ball in. I think we struggled a little bit with that tonight, but then our energy from the bench, our enthusiasm, and our captains really stepped it up and we got the points and kills.”

High school girls volleyball match
Alyssa Yokom (15) and Gabriella Arntson (12), both of Hermantown, block a shot from Karys Johnson (17) of Duluth East during a volleyball match Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2022, at Duluth East High School. Hermantown defeated Duluth East 3-1.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

The Greyhounds led 23-20 late in the first set, but Hermantown scored six of the next seven points — a stretch that included five Duluth East errors — to win.

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The Greyhounds led 18-11 in the second set, but allowed the Hawks to fight their way back into it, scoring 12 of the next 17 points to tie it before falling.

The errors continued in the third set, with Duluth East falling behind 7-0, with six misfires in the stretch. The Greyhounds rallied to take the lead 18-14, before six more errors allowed Hermantown to grab the 27-25 win.

High school girls volleyball match
Olaeze Okoro (6) of Duluth East blocks a shot from Elise Misiewicz (3) of Hermantown during a volleyball match Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2022, at Duluth East High School. Hermantown defeated Duluth East 3-1.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

The Hawks opened up a 13-point lead in the fourth and cruised to the win.

“I have to give props to our coach, she’s really been getting on us about our defense and overall,” Rish said. “I think our team did really well, especially with communicating — that was our big factor — and even if we did leave a little hole, our backers got it up. We were just able to talk to each other and I think that’s what really pushed up through.

Duluth East coach Susan Schmidt said the Greyhounds need to vary the placement of their kill attempts — many of which were blocked at the net against Hermantown.

High school girls volleyball match
Ayla Oltmanns (1) of Duluth East hits the ball against Gabriella Arntson (12) and Elise Harriman (3), both of Hermantown, during a volleyball match Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2022, at Duluth East High School. Hermantown defeated Duluth East 3-1.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

“They get that feeling that when they go up to hit, they’ve only got this option, because they know this works,” Schmidt said. “When you keep getting blocked, it’s just not. You’ve got to have other options, so they need to broaden their arsenal.”

Last season, the Greyhounds were able to take advantage of Ashlyn Ring’s presence in the middle of the net. They could count on Ring to make a kill, but with that presence missing after her graduation, Duluth East’s attack got a little too predictable on Tuesday.

High school girls volleyball match
Kristi Jensen (14) of Duluth East hits the ball against Emilie Rish (5) of Hermantown during a volleyball match Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2022, at Duluth East High School. Hermantown defeated Duluth East 3-1.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

Schmidt said the team is still working to come together in the early part of the season.

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“I think, for us, mindset is going to be a huge factor,” Schmidt said. “These girls have to want to play for each other at this point and we’re still finding that bond. Once they decide that they want to play for each other and they’re not worrying about their own individual mistakes, they’ll get there.”

Ayla Oltmanns led Duluth East with 18 kills and Riley Panger finished with 15.

High school girls volleyball match
Hermantown head coach Jess Williams smiles while talking to the team in a timeout against Duluth East during a volleyball match Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2022, at Duluth East High School. Hermantown defeated Duluth East 3-1.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

Williams has the Hawks playing well and undefeated in the early going of her first season as head coach. Williams took over this year after Sue Wasbotten stepped aside after the 2021 season following 33 years on the sidelines for Hermantown.

The longtime coach racked up 335 wins in 15 years and guided her team to the state tournament twice.

“Sue was my coach, so I’ve been around her for a really long time,” Williams said. “She knows volleyball better than probably anyone else and so we’re just trying to keep our strong legacy going and adding some new things, just to step it up and maybe make it to state or compete with teams we haven’t competed with before.”

High school girls volleyball match
Riley Panger (7) of Duluth East hits the ball against Alyssa Yokom (15) of Hermantown during a volleyball match Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2022, at Duluth East High School. Hermantown defeated Duluth East 3-1.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

Senior captain Elle Jokinen is excited about the team and Williams, who was an assistant in the program last year.

“It’s been a very smooth transition, actually,” Jokinen said. “Williams is a great coach, I love her, and Wasbotten is also amazing. The two of them together last year were an amazing duo and (Williams) taking over was just perfect. I love it — the team loves it.”

Hermantown (4-0) will host Proctor at 7 p.m. Thursday.

Duluth East (1-3) will next play at Carlton at 7 p.m. Monday.

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High school girls volleyball match
Duluth East head coach Susan Schmidt smiles while talking to the team in a timeout against Hermantown during a volleyball match Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2022, at Duluth East High School. Hermantown defeated Duluth East 3-1.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

More from Jamey Malcomb

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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