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