by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
There was no chance Elk River would take North Branch lightly in their section opener Friday night.
Still stinging from a decisive upset loss to the Vikings in the same match a year ago, the Elks prevailed in three straight grueling games 25-22, 25-23, 25-22 at home, advancing the Section 7AAA semifinals.
“It was a revenge match,” said senior middle blocker Jayde Krauth. “Same team, same seed as last year. Our practices were 100 percent focused on THIS GAME. Last year was totally unexpected. We made sure we got the win.”
Kara Ziemer, junior outside hitter, sparked the Elks with a career-high 20 kills, along with 11 digs and two aces.
“Oh, yes we all remembered that one,” grinned Ziemer.
In 2010 the Elks had their first winning season in six years with a 15-11 record that included a win over North Branch, and got a first-round bye at the section, but the Vikings zapped them 3-0 in the second round.
This year, the Elks’ 15-13 record includes a win over the Vikings 17-25, 25-19, 25-21, 25-17 on Sept. 13.
North Branch (18-10), seeded sixth, beat Duluth Denfeld in the first round to earn another shot at the Elks for the second straight year.
Led by hitters Taylor Fertig and Rachel Barg, the Vikings took early leads on the Elks all three games, including 12-7 in the third game.
“Their serving got to us for a while,” said Ziemer.
“That’s OK, we are kinda the comeback kids this year,” said Krauth.
Elk coach Pam Gothe acknowledged that her team has come from behind many times.
“We say to them, couldn’t you just take it right from the beginning so you don’t have to make up 15 points or whatever?” she said.
Janel Finkbeiner added nine kills and Jordan Moening seven, while Finkbeiner and Moening had four ace serves each. The Elks served 67-for-74 (91 percent) with 12 aces. They had a solid defensive game in back with 57 digs, led by Moening and Ziemer with 11 each.
Gothe knew North Branch would be tough to beat a second time.
“Even though we beat them in four (earlier) I was concerned because we’ve seen them play and they have picked up the pace of their game,” Gothe said. “They have a fast offense. We knew we had to get our serving game going to take them out of their offense. I was very surprised and impressed that we won in three games.”
The No. 3 seeded Elks (15-13) are one of four team remaining in a field of 12 in Section 7AA. They will play at No. 2 Duluth East (22-4-2) on Wednesday, 2 p.m. The other semifinal will have No. 4 Anoka (15-13) at No. 1 Andover (24-5). The championship match will be held Saturday, Nov. 5, tentatively at Andover, 7 p. m.