Volleyball: Elks trip Duluth East in semi’s, face Andover for state trip

by Bruce Strand, Sports editor

The Elk River volleyball team will play for a state tournament trip Saturday evening after springing a 3-2 upset over Duluth East on Wednesday evening.

After watching “Miracle” on the three-hour bus trip for inspiration, the No. 3 seeded Elks (16-13) prevailed 20-25, 25-22, 25-22, 13-14, 15-13 over the No. 2 Greyhounds (22-5) in the Section 7AAA semifinals at Duluth.

“That’s a hockey movie but was very inspirational,” said coach Pam Gothe, also crediting her team with gritty serving, hitting, blocking and considerable resilience against a much bigger and very confident opponent.

“It was a really sweet win for the Elks,” Gothe said. “Too bad it was so far away so more people couldn’t share it with us.”

The Elks face conference rival Andover (24-5) in the finals Saturday at St. Francis, 7 p.m. Andover beat the Elks 3-0 in September.

This will be the Elks first trip to a section final since losing to White Bear Lake in 1999, a team that included JV coach Erika Kelly and Gothe’s daughter Lindsey.

The Elks took games two and three, then got smoked in game four and fell behind 9-4 in game five. But, that’s been normal for the Elks this year, as they’ve overcome such deficits many times.

Clutch serving by Tessa Zeman and Rachel Anderson helped the Elks surge into the lead. Anderson, the  libero, served for points 11, 1 2, 13, and 14, putting the Elks at match point. Then came a long rally that the Elks lost when Anderson had to dig one up at the back row and they couldn’t get it over the net.

The Greyhounds, down 13-14, sent their star player, 6-foot-2 junior Elena Lushine to the serving stripe.

“Lushine has this big jump serve and we were bracing for it — but she put it into the net!” said Gothe. Game over!

The Elks had their usual strong serving going, with 15 aces, led by Jordan Moening with six and Zeman with four.  Duluth East had some nasty serving, too — “One of the toughest we’ve seen, and it took us out of our offense a little,” said Gothe – but the Elks out-aced them 15 to seven.

The Elks got 13 kills from Krauth, 11 from Kara Zieman, 10 from Janel Finkbeiner, and eight from Moening, the shortest hitter on the court who in addition made several smart plays that kept rallies going, said Gothe.

Gothe said a big difference in the match was that Finkbeiner, a third-year setter, was much steadier than East’s setter in a 5-1 offense.

Lushine had 15 kills and six blocks for East, and 5-foot-10 Sadie Kunst had 14 kills and 15 digs.

“Duluth was really big, and they were a very confident team. They were 23-4 and they were not used to losing,” said Gothe. “Maybe a little too confident.”

The Elks, who had a first-round bye, then beat North Branch 3-0 at home last Friday, will be looking for their first state trip when they take the court against Andover.