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CMCS places third in Class A

ST. PAUL - No matter what Kittson Central sent Central Minnesota Christian's way Saturday, the Bluejays had an appropriate answer.

A calm, focused demeanor led CMCS to a third-place win over the Wolfpack in the state Class A volleyball tournament, 25-20, 25-22, 25-23, at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

After being rattled against Bethlehem Academy Friday in the semifinals, the coaches and players ironed out a few details in preparation for Kittson Central, which went a long way Saturday.

"They've got a ton of experience," CMCS coach Traci Grussing said of her players. "As long as they're supporting each other, they can play really well."

Added senior outside hitter Hillary Slagter: "After coming back from (Friday), we were really bummed that we lost. (Saturday) we picked up our defense and played really awesome."

The Bluejays (28-6) also served more aggressively and took advantage of openings in the Wolfpack defense that weren't there against Bethlehem Academy.

Most notably, Slagter devoured the Kittson Central outside blockers for 18 kills and senior Elizabeth Bulthuis added 16 to lead the CMCS attack.

"As long as she has a lot of confidence, she can really kill the ball," Grussing said of Slagter, who was named to the all-tournament and Class A all-state teams this weekend. "She's just a great athlete."

From the service line, CMCS had its best output of the tournament, recording nine aces. Even though the Bluejays had seven errors, the better serving opened up more for the offense.

Neither team had more than a five-point lead at any time in the match, which lasted a little more than an hour, and the teams were tied 17 times in three games. But despite all the pressure, the Bluejays remained calm and steady.

"We tried to keep it consistent and keep it in the court," said CMCS junior Jenny Blom.

Kittson Central's biggest lead of the match came in the first game with a 17-12 lead. But Slagter served four points and Bulthuis recorded a kill and an ace block to tie the match. The Wolfpack also got within two points of forcing a fourth game, but a Bulthuis kill and a Wolfpack attack error ended the match.

"We just got a lot of rest and got emotionally prepared. It all fell into place (Saturday)," said CMCS senior Missy Mulder.

Junior Moriah Gulbranson led the Bluejays with three ace serves, senior Becky Schwitters added 16 digs and junior Kresson Vreeman had 34 set assists.

The win gives CMCS, Class A champs for three straight seasons from 1998-2000, its best finish in its last three appearances.

"This is really nice to not be in the consolation round," said Grussing, summing up the season. "It seems like it's taken for granted a little bit because we've been here so many times. We kind of had to start over this year to remind the kids that this is their year and it doesn't matter what happened before. This was their state tournament."

CMCS 3, Kittson Central 0

CMCS (28-6)...................25 25 25

Kittson Central (28-6)........20 22 23

Central Minnesota Christian

Serving: Moriah Gulbranson 10-12-3, Hillary Slagter 12-13-1, Jenny Blom 6-8-0, Tara Frikke 9-9-1, Kresson Vreeman 12-12-2, Elizabeth Bulthuis 10-11-1, Kari Mulder 6-7-1 .... Setting: Vreeman 99-101-34 .... Hitting: Missy Mulder 8-13-5, Slagter 31-39-18, Blom 14-17-1, Frikke 11-11-3, Vreeman 5-5-2, Bulthuis 35-40-16 .... Blocking (solo): none ... Digs: Gulbranson 2, Becky Schwitters 16, M. Mulder 12, Blom 5, Frikke 2, Vreeman 9, Bulthuis 4, K. Mulder 2

Kittson Central

Serving: Annaleah Halvorson 12-13-0, Joni Lindegard 9-10-0, Molly Gustafson 12-12-0, Alicia Dowdle 8-9-1, Brianna Eschler 9-11-2, Rachel Noel 12-12-2 .... Setting: Gustafson 81-81-15, Dowdle 15-15-2 .... Hitting: Halvorson 24-24-6, Lindegard 15-23-3, Gustafson 8-10-2, Dowdle 4-4-0, Whitney Langen 20-28-8, Noel 14-14-5 .... Blocking (solo): Noel 1 ... Digs: Annaleah Halvorson 6, Lindegard 6, Gustafson 6, Dowdle 15, Noel 4, Andrea Halvorson 11