MONTPELIER — By the time Litchville-Marion/Montpelier's Heather Graalum stepped up to the service line in the fifth set of the team's 3-2 win over Barnes County North, she admits there were a few nerves.
Earlier in the night, the Rebels had taken a two set lead in the match but watched a 21-6 lead in the third disappear as the Bison found their groove and evened it out at two sets each.
But after BCN's Maggie Beddow hit one into the net early in the fifth, giving Graalum the serve and 4-3 lead, the senior was focused primarily on keeping it in.
"(I wanted) just to keep it going and not mess up," she said. "Just focus on my serves and hit a spot that I can know I can get an ace off of."
It was poise with a payoff as the Rebels scored points on six straight serves, including four aces, which gave LMM 10-4 lead and a run the Bison couldn't recover from. The run helped close out the 27-25, 25-17, 28-30, 15-25 15-6 win for LMM.
The loss keeps BCN winless so far this year, though it took timely play from the Rebels to avoid a late comeback attempt by the Bison.
When the match opened, LMM scored the opening point, but fell behind 6-1 on play up front by Kayla Erker. The Rebels had a brief rally to narrow the deficit to 6-5, but the Bison had a knack for responding with their own rallies.
It wasn't until BCN started struggling midway through that LMM tied it on a ball that the Bison misplayed, then took a lead on shortly later on a kill by Shannon Opdahl to make it 17-16.
Both teams had short point flurries and a ball into the net by LMM's Rhandi Larson gave BCN a 24-22 lead with set point. Larson then contributed two of the next three points as BCN took a 25-24 lead. A long serve by the Rebels tied it up, but tips by LMM's Kelly Susa and Graalum put the set away at 27-25.
In the second set, BCN struggled offensively, hitting numerous balls into the net to give LMM a 10-6 lead early. It was a gap the Bison were unable to close as the Rebels got their lead as high as 23-12 before putting it away 25-17.
The third set had an even worse start as LMM started with nine of the first 11 points and later went on an 11-point run to make it 21-6.
But after a center line violation was called on LMM, BCN coach Lauren Ressler called a timeout and encouraged her team to attempt a comeback.
"I told them I'd seen it done before and I knew they could do it," Ressler said. "All you have to do is play smart, one point at a time, and they did."
With that, eighth grader Jayda Haugen took the ball to the service line and proceeded to make it a match.
First it was a lift call on LMM. Then three aces in a row. After a few more kills and a couple of aces, the Rebel lead had dwindled to 21-20 before a spike by Graalum got the ball out of Haugen's hands.
"Volleyball is such a mental game at times and that, right there, shows you how mental that game is," LMM coach Ryan Nelson said.
Ressler praised Haugen for her serves, especially given her young age.
"It's really exciting that she can pull it off, that she can just confidently serve and not think about her inexperience or her age or the stakes," Ressler said. "She just wants to do what's best for the team, which is what makes her a really good leader."
After the run, BCN upped the lead to 24-20, but four straight hitting errors and an ace by BCN's Abby Undem gave the Bison a 25-24 lead.
The teams ended up playing long rallies. Tanys Ulmer had a set over the net and a spike to go up 26-25, but the Rebels then had a bad serve and a defensive struggle that gave BCN the 27-26 lead.
The Rebels then tied it on a diving bump by Tashia Piehl that rolled along the middle part of the net before dropping on BCN's side of the court. BCN then had three of the final four points to push it to a fourth set.
In the fourth, LMM went up 10-8 early but struggled as BCN found an offensive rhythm and went up 19-12. The Bison scored six of the last seven points, ending the set with a block by Undem to finish it up 25-15.
The final set opened with three-point runs by each team before Beddow's hit into the net led to the Graalum-led rally, which ended on a kill by Haugen. From there, the teams traded one point each until LMM scored the final three points of the match.
Graalum led LMM with 14 of the team's 29 aces, and was one of four players with over 10 digs. Samantha Haakenson led the Rebels with 20 digs, Piehl had 18 and Sterlin Hansen had 11. Ulmer led LMM with 10 kills.
The match was the LMM's last home match of the year, leaving the Rebels with one more match in the regular season.
Haugen led BCN with eight aces and 26 assists. Pam Fehr had 10 digs. Wieland, Erker and Undem each had nine kills.
The Bison continue return home for a match with Enderlin tonight and play at home against Finley-Sharon/Hope-Page and Ellendale next Monday and Tuesday.
Ressler feels like her young team, which will return its entire roster next year, is on the verge of getting its first victory.
"I think we're just hungry for the win and we're finally piecing it together, what we need to do," she said. "This is a huge turning point for us tonight to see what it takes to win, and I think the next game we'll be even hungrier to win and not just want to play well."