by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
Elk River’s volleyball team came back to earth on Saturday evening.
But it was a soft enough landing, ending the season as section runners-up.
The Andover Huskies scuttled the Elks 25-19, 25-15, 25-16 in the Section 8AAA championship game at St. Francis. It was Andover’s fifth straight section title and the Elks’ first appearance in the finals since 1999.
“This was a really good season and I’m so proud of my team,” said Jayde Krauth, senior middle blocker. “It was a great way to go out. We’re the first team to get to this point in 11 years. Elk River has always been out of the running early, so to be one of the last 16 in triple-A was amazing.”
The Elks scored their biggest win of the current century on Wednesday, a 3-2 semifinal upset of Duluth East capped by a 15-13 fifth-game win after trailing 9-4.
But No. 6 ranked Andover decreed: that’s far enough, Elks. Karlie Hauer led the Huskies (26-5), ripping 16 kills and three of their six ace serves. Kaitlyn Turner was next with five kills. The Huskies were unfazed by the Elk’s fierce serving that’s gotten them through several matches, as they gave up just two aces. At the net, the Elks had their moments, but 29 kills were far from enough.
“We came out fighting. We came out swinging. But they are good team,” said Jordan Moening, Elk senior all-around standout. “There’s a reason they’ve been going to state the last few years. They have a lot of tough girls.”
The Elks finished 16-14, including another 3-0 loss to Andover during conference play. The Elks had one 26-24 game in that match, but couldn’t faze the Huskies in the rematch.
“We were hoping to push them back, but with their size it’s hard to put up a good block against them,” said Pam Gothe, Elks’ coach. “But I am so proud of these girls. This is a scrappy little team and they push and push and push. We got a lot of support from community and parents, and we are happy about that.”
Andover probably would have won even if the Elks had been around their season average of 10.4 ace serves but their ability to defuse the Elks best weapon is just one more tribute to them.
“The number one thing we work on in practice is serve receive,” said Andover coach Connie Huberty, adding that Hauer, Nichola LaPage and Turner are their top receivers. ” We’ve got these great big hitters but if you can’t make the pass, then they can’t do anything. Everyone on our team knows how to serve receive.”
Said Gothe: “Our serves were not necessarily where we like to put them. I think it was jitters. They (Andover) were picking them up and that got into our heads, too.”
For the Elks, junior Kara Ziemer notched 11 kills and eight digs, while Krauth had nine kills, and Moening five kills and 10 digs. The Elk stat sheet was spare after the humbling loss.
The win at Duluth East made the season.
“You should have been there — you would have loved it!” said Gothe, noting that few Elk fans made the long trip but parents and JV players were cheering boisterously.
“That was the most stressful game I’ve played in my life,” said Moening. “When we won we just screamed and hollered and hit the middle of the floor. The whole three-hour bus ride back were were screaming and hollering.”
Huberty said she wasn’t shocked to be facing the Elks instead of Duluth East.
“I wasn’t surprised. I thought that would be a good match. We feel we have a very good conference,” said Hubert. “Elk River is very scrappy. Pam is a great coach. They get to every ball and they run a lot of quick sets. They are small so the don’t let a lot of balls hit the floor.”
With the volleyball loss, the only Elk team still going is swimming, which has sectionals next weekend.