Early in the season, the Maple Valley High School volleyball team has been on a roll behind a bevy of returning starters from last season.
Saturday, the Raiders continued their success with a third place finish in Saturday's Valley City Optimist Club volleyball tournament.
The Raiders went 3-0-3 to win the tournament's C pool, before losing 26-24, 25-11 to Central Cass in the championship semifinal.
The tournament, which used multiple gymnasiums at Valley City Junior/Senior High School and the Valley City Rec. Center, lasted all day Saturday and hosted 21 teams from both Class A and B.
Valley City High School's varsity team finished third in their pool and ended the tournament with a loss to Northern Cass in the seventh-place game.
Midkota won the tournament for the second straight year, beating Central Cass in the championship.
For Maple Valley, the tournament's closing game with Central Cass was an opportunity to see the Squirrels a month before the teams meet in Tower City for a district match.
In the first set, the Raiders even stayed point-for-point with the defending Class B state champions.
Very early, the teams set a quick pace to the game, which featured both teams playing above the net with a heavy reliance on hard kills.
Maple Valley scored the first point, but Central Cass then had kills from hitters Sheyenne Weber and Faith Dooley, both of whom are over 6-foot-2-inches tall.
Maple Valley freshman Rylee Nudell answered back to tie it.
The scoring went back and forth. Early on, the largest lead was only three points for Central Cass.
The Raiders soon got the lead down to 12-11 when Dooley spiked a ball into the net. They then rallied behind the serves of Katie Pautz on a six-point run that included a block by Nudell and a few mistakes by the Squirrels.
After each team got another point, Central Cass went on a quick run to tie it at 17. From there the teams went nearly point-for-point with each other, with Cass getting a lead but Maple Valley coming back.
It included several plays that Maple Valley went all out on, including a bump from the far edge of the court by Ashley Punton that Rylee Nudell was able to tip over. It was a play that Maple Valley coach Jessica Theurer said shows the character of her team.
"We're a scrappy team and they're a group of girls that does not like to lose, so they will do anything to win," she said.
Even facing set point, Nudell reached over the net for a kill that tied the set at 24. Cass then scored two more points to win the set.
The Raiders struggled in the second set, allowing Central Cass to go on a 10-3 run to start.
"We missed a few serves in that second set right away that kind of brought our momentum down," Theurer said. "It was hard to come back after that but they hung with it and did a really great job today."
Maple Valley hitter Megan Kasowski said the close loss has the team anticipating the rematch next month.
"We know we can beat them and we know we can do some damage if we want to," she said.
VC Takes 8th
Valley City found early offense in the 7th place game with Northern Cass, but struggled in the last two sets, finishing the tournament with a 25-20, 17-25, 9-15 loss.
"They're still working, they're still trying to put things together," Valley City coach Katy Van Dyke said.
The Hi-Liners went 2-2-2 in pool play, losing to Oakes and Midkota, before the loss to Northern Cass.
The team started the match with Northern Cass with strong play from both Danica Diegel and Mariah Olstad as they worked up to a 5-1 lead. The teams stayed close the rest of the set until Valley went on a 7-1 run to end the set.
The Jaguars started the second set with another 7-1 run and never let Valley take the lead.
The third set was close again until the Jaguars got key kills at the end to put it away.
Olstad finished the tournament with 23 kills and 53 digs.
"Mariah had a very good day," Van Dyke said. "By this last match she was pretty tired, but she had a really good day."