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College Volleyball: Ridgewater's national title chase ends

By Rand Middleton

WILLMAR -- The Ridgewater volleyball team won't get a chance to defend its NJCAA Division III national championship after falling to Fergus Falls on Saturday in the Region 13A title game.

Fergus Falls won 25-23, 15-25, 25-22, 12-25, 15-10.

The national tournament is Nov. 9-10 in Rochester, Minn.

Ridgewater had its string of eight-straight nationals appearances halted. The Warriors had won the last two national championships.

"Obviously, this wasn't the end that we anticipated and it's difficult to swallow after seeing how well we played at times in the match," said Warriors head coach Joe Sussenguth. "This match was indicative of the peaks and valleys of our season."

Sussenguth said the team is having a hard time coming to grips with how, exactly, it lost on Saturday.

The Warriors hit over .300, served better than 95 percent with more aces than errors, and the team's defensive stats where in line with its averages. Ridgewater outscored Fergus Falls by 13 total points in the match.

Ridgewater's Kelsey Stommes had 18 kills and 5.5 ace blocks. Kelci Viesselman followed closely with 16 and she also had 3 service aces. Tiffani Karbo had 46 set assists.

"There's no question this could have been a three set win for us," Sussenguth said. "We have to give (Fergus Falls) credit, they never quit when they could have. They have a balanced team and that can carry a team far. On paper some would consider this an upset, but that would be disrespectful to a good (Fergus Falls) team. They've proven they can compete with the best teams."

It's a huge win for Fergus Falls against a Warriors team that held the No. 1 ranking in Division III almost the entire season. The Warriors will need time but will see this season as a success, Sussenguth said.

"This team had a 22-win season (22-8) and was ranked No. 1 for nearly every week this season," Sussenguth said. "We went 12-0 in the MCAC Southern Division and were division champs. Although that tends to be minimized after a loss in a regional final, it's important to recognize the positive things we've done this season."

Ridgewater won Game 4 decisively, just as it had Game 2, to tie the match again. But Fergus bolted to a 10-3 lead in the tiebreaker and the Warriors' fate was sealed. At 14-7, Alicia Koenen served for three straight points before a kill from the right side closed the match to the delight of a nice turnout of fans supporting the Spartans.

Two former Hancock Owls, freshman Shae Brown and sophomore Aria Walstad, shared the table setting with 10 and 17 assists, respectively.

"We just wanted it," said Brown. "We brought our 'A' game. When we got to the fifth game, we knew it was now or never."

Cheyanne O'Neal of Battle Lake, Morgan Kapphahn of Bertha-Hewitt and Christine Moenkedick, also Bertha-Hewitt, combined for 35 kills.

Like Ridgewater, the Spartans roster is composed of student/athletes from nearby small towns and consolidated schools districts.

Warriors sophomore setter Emma Sharpe (RCW) was misty eyed but philosophical: "Lots of upsets happen. Back in high school, I knew the awesome feeling of beating the favorite. They were very aggressive on defense because they had nothing to lose and their touches on the block slowed down our offense."

But Sharpe added it has been a terrific two years.

"I never dreamed I'd be teammates with players I 'hated' in high school because they were the enemy, like Brittany (Nissen) and Tiffani (Karbo)."

In Region 16B, at Brainerd, Northland College (24-7) outhit Central Lakes College (22-7) 25-14, 25-19, 25-15.


Named Region 13A All-Tournament were, from Fergus Falls, libero Gretch Freed, hitters Cheyanne O'Neal and Andrea Christenson; and from Ridgewater, setter Tiffani Karbo and middle hitter Kelsey Stommes.

Fergus Falls 3, Ridgewater College

Fergus Falls (14-13) 25 15 25 12 15

Ridgewater (22-8) 23 25 22 25 10

(Key: good-attempts-aces)

MCTC-Fergus Falls

Serving (aces): Cheyanne O'Neal 2 ... Setting (assists): Shae Brown 10, Aria Walstad 17 ... Hitting (kills): Andrea Christenson 4, Christine Moenkedick 9, Morgan Kapphahn 14, Kaitlyn Timian 6, O'Neal 12 ... Blocking (aces): O'Neal 4, Timian 5, Christenson 5 ... Digs: Kapphahn 16, Moenkedick 16, Gretchen Freed 22

Ridgewter College

Serving: Tiffani Karbo 18-19-2, Emma Sharpe 14-14-0, Taylor Sharpe 6-7-0, Morgan Meyer 18-19-2, Cassie Ziemer 18-21-2, Alicia Koenen 12-12-0, Kelcie Viesselman 19-19-3, ... Setting (assists): Karbo 46, E. Sharppe 1, Ziemer 1, Koenen 1 ... Hitting: Meyer 2-2-2, Karbo 8-9-2, Ziemer 11-11-3, Kelsey Stommes 35-37-18, Nissen 10-11-7, Koenen 10-11-4, Alex Horton 13-14-4, Viesselman 37-42-16 ... Blocking (aces): Stommes 6, Horton 1, Viesselman 1, Karbo 1 ... Digs: E. Sharpe 22, T. Sharpe 6, Meyer 9, Karbo 4, Koenen 10, Viesselmkan 8

Rand Middleton
Tribune photographer/videographer. Began working in radio and at weekly newspaper in Munising, Michigan, in 1972. Started parttime at West Central Daily Tribune Sept. 1974. Fulltime news/sports beginning Feb. 1979. Married to Tribune news clerk Donna (Miller) Middleton, formerly of Kerkhoven. 2 grown children. 
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