FARGO — All year long, Valley City High School senior Jasmine Stevens played a crucial role in the volleyball team's offensive success, and when the team entered Friday's elimination match in the Eastern Dakota Conference tournament, coach Katy Van Dyke had her ready for more.
"I talked to her (Thursday) and told her 'I'm going to depend on you. You might not kill the ball every time, but you are so dependable about getting the ball over the net,'" Van Dyke said.
It was trust that paid off in a bittersweet way. The Hi-Liners lost in straight sets, 25-16, 25-16, 25-16, to Wahpeton, ending their first regional tournament since 2008.
As the match went on, Stevens, one of six seniors on the team, took charge, working to keep the ball alive.
She was one of three Hi-Liners, with junior Dierra Diegel and sophomore Claire Olson, to finish with five kills.
"Jasmine had a wonderful match. She went out there and did exactly what I asked her to do."
It was a match that Valley City clearly wanted to win, but struggles to land kills against a quick back line ended the season a win short of a state qualifying match.
In two of the three sets, all of which ended with the same score, Valley City kept it close early.
A kill by Diegel gave the Hi-Liners a 5-4 lead in the first set and a kill by Madison Taylor made it 6-5, giving VCHS its last lead of the set, although they would tie it 13-13 later on.
The teams kept it close but Wahpeton got behind Ellington Norwood and Lachelle Bumgarner to score the final seven straight points of the set.
The Huskies kept the rally alive, scoring the first five points of the second set and jumping out to a 15-5 lead.
Kills by Stevens and Danica Diegel attempted to narrow the lead, but Valley City never got closer than seven points, a problem not helped by serving errors. The set ended on a bad serve by Valley City.
In the final set, the Hi-Liners again got out to an early lead, but fell behind on short rallies, eventually tying it 7-7.
The tie was as close as it got as Wahpeton went on a 9-2 run to go up 16-9. The Hi-Liners got late kills from Stevens, Danica Diegel and Jessica Denholm but couldn't get it closer than six points and the match eventually ended on a kill by Heidi Eberhardt.
Van Dyke said she warned her team early on that Wahpeton played fast defensively.
"We went into it telling them that these girls are quick," Van Dyke said. "They've got the capability of being quick off the line and you've got to play with them. We let our guard down a couple of times and they caught us."
Defensively, Valley City played strong and had double-digit digs from three players. Senior libero Cassidy Wendler led VCHS with 14 digs and senior Mariah Olstad, who spent the match on the back line, had 13. Olson had 10.
Denholm had four kills and 12 assists. Danica Diegel had four kills and the Hi-Liners' only block.
Despite ending with a loss, Van Dyke was proud of her team for the season they had, which included the EDC conference tournament and a play-in match win over Devils Lake.
She also credited her players with improving practice to practice and game to game, an attitude she hopes continues next year.
"There was a lot of heart with some of those girls and I hope they can bring that into next year's season because there was good talent and next year there's going to be good talent, if not even better talent with the girls we have coming up," she said.