November 9, 2022 at 4:24 p.m.
Cathedral tops Sauk Centre in Section 6AA semifinals
All season long, the Sauk Centre Streeters volleyball team excelled against whatever competition was placed in front of them.
After losing a pair of matches in the season-opening Albany Tournament, Sauk Centre measured up to their high-level expectations and more, rattling off 23 consecutive victories in locking up Section 6AA’s top seed.
However, with their strong play came spirited competition, as the Granite Ridge Conference champion Cathedral Crusaders showcased their willpower and ability in handing the Streeters a 3-1 (22-25, 25-19, 22-25, 19-25) loss at the Section 6AA semifinals Nov. 3 at Sauk Rapids-Rice High School in Sauk Rapids.
“When you’re the No. 1 seed and ranked at state, they’re going to give you their best shot,” said Jim Klaphake, head coach. “We’ve been responding to that and weathering that storm, and we kept coming out on top. This time, it just wasn’t so.”
The first set was a hint of things to come, with neither team gaining more than three points of separation in an absolute slugfest. However, the Crusaders, leading 23-22, scored the final two points of the set to grab an important 1-0 lead.
“I think in the last couple of months we’ve been used to winning those sets,” Coach Klaphake said. “I thought against Melrose, we did the same thing. It was back-and-forth and they pulled it out at the end.”
Not since the aforementioned Albany Tournament had the Streeters lost more than one set in a row, and that did not change in a heated, intense semifinals bout. Sauk Centre never trailed in the second set, eventually powering ahead to a six-point victory to even things up. The West Central Conference champions found a foothold in the match behind the serving of Maddy Schuster, who went a perfect 22-of-22 from the end line with four aces.
“I wanted to bring her along nice and slow, but at the end of the year, you could see it coming,” Coach Klaphake said. “She kept getting better and better and kept improving.”
Eventually, the back row began to get the ball cleanly to the team’s setters, who utilized scorers fairly evenly. Sophomores Cierra Kortan and Tory Jennissen tied for the team lead in kills with 12, while senior Jenna Gapinski-Vogt closed out an impressive high school volleyball career with 11 kills.
“Between Jenna, Heidi (Lieser), Cierra and Tory, they all hit over .300 in that second set,” Coach Klaphake said. “That’s phenomenal. It also meant we were passing the ball well and setting the ball well.”
Unfortunately, this momentum did not last. Cathedral hitters won several net battles and kept Sauk Centre shuffling their feet for most of the third set. By the time the Streeters had reached the 12-point mark, the Crusaders were ahead by eight.
“Overall, it was just rugged,” Coach Klaphake said. “We seemed to be scrambling all the time and couldn’t get our feet under us.”
While Sauk Centre overcame an immediate 4-0 deficit to tie set four, it was not enough to stave off a hungry Cathedral team, who advanced to the Section 6AA championship in front of a raucous traveling fan section.
“They were just relentless attacking and got us on our heels,” Coach Klaphake said. “We were just chasing the whole time.”
Following the match, tears came and the team shared an emotional moment amidst the overwhelming feeling of heartbreak. Even as sadness and disappointment pushed itself to the surface, Coach Klaphake believes his team’s overall performance throughout the season was strong.
“It ended a little bit soon,” Coach Klaphake said. “I think if you’re going to go around and ask most anyone in the state, ‘Hey, you’re 25-3, you happy with that?’ A lot of teams would be happy with that.”
With five seniors – Gapinski-Vogt, Lieser, Ava Kerfeld, Kate McKeown and Lydia Green-Brueggemeier – moving on after impactful careers and a slew of young players returning next year, Sauk Centre volleyball looks to remain competitive and consistent next season.
“Most of them know they didn’t do as well as they could have,” Coach Klaphake said. “I hope it drives them to work hard in the offseason and improve, and I sure believe they will.”
Serving: Schuster 22/22, Lieser 17/19, April Klaphake 15/16, McKeown 13/15 and Kortan 12/14. Kills: Jennissen 12, Kortan 12 and Gapinski-Vogt 11. Digs: Kortan 12, Schuster 12 and Raya Sebek 11. Aces: Schuster 4. Assists: April Klaphake 17.