by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
It was “pretty intense out there,” Kara Ziemer acknowledged.
However, Ziemer and the Elks kept calm enough to fend of Duluth East 23-25, 25-22, 25-22, 25-23 in a section playoff match that was just as close as it sounds at home Friday evening.
The 5-foot-8 outside hitter knocked down 24 kills, including the last three, a boomer down the line that tied the score, a sleight-of-hand tip to an open spot for the lead, and a smash through a block for the 25th point.
The No. 2 seeded Elks (17-11) and No. 7 Greyhounds (16-11) were within two or three points most of the time through four games of the Section 7AAA quarterfinal match. The Elks had a couple of five-point leads.
“I think our team was pretty relaxed,” said Ziemer, who also made 12 digs for a double-double,”because we have been working on that a lot, to keep focused and relaxed and not get bothered when things don’t go our way.”
The Elks will host No. 3 St. Francis (20-8) on Tuesday at 7 p.m. while top-seeded Anoka hosts No. 4 North Branch. The winners will battle for a state trip on Saturday evening at Duluth Denfeld.
Janell Finkbeiner delivered 26 assists, 10 digs and eight kills for the Elks.
Rachel Anderson made 17 digs, Bailey Lundquist 18 assist and 14 digs, Austyn Beese six kills, and Kennedy Strain five kills and six solo blocks. Brittni Gillquist served 21-for-24 with two of the team’s six aces.
The Greyhounds had won eight of their last 10, counting 3-0 over Chisago Lakes in their playoff opener, while the Elks had lost seven of their last 11.
“We saw that, and we came in here thinking, we can do this as underdogs,” said Greyhound coach Ashley Beseman, whose team rallied to win the first game and kept the pressure on throughout.
“There were a couple points we didn’t get, that went other way. The match was really close, the entire game, and it’s too bad this group of seniors could not pull out the win. We’ve got eight seniors.”
East was led by Mandy Kurosky, 5-10 junior outside hitter, who hammered 25 kills and served 100 percent. Every time she went to the line the Greyhounds ran off a few points.
“Their number twenty, she can really smack it,” said Elk coach Pam Gothe. “We knew we had to focus on her.”
The Elks made a point of serving at Kurosky.
“We tried to serve to her, to wear her out. I think that worked. She was pounding the floor the last couple of games.”
Cassie Chruscielski added 12 kills and 21 digs for the Greyhounds. Amanda Stromback made 44 assists.
The Elks usually miss more serves than their opponent and that was the case again with 14 botched serves to East’s nine. A couple times the Elks came through, though, were in the third game when Gillquist served for five straight points for a 16-14 lead, and the end of game four, when Anderson made the serves leading to Ziemer’s last three kills.
Gillquist has been getting playing time lately to serve for Beese, who has a sore arm.
“Brittni is a high-percentage server and she’s good at placement,” said Gothe.
Strain, a soph rookie who’s Elks only tall hitter at 6-foot-1, was the key player in the second game with several tips and blocks including a tip for the 25th point.
Ziemer, meanwhile, heated up as the game wore on.
“I just wanted it bad. I was like, let’s get this done with,” she said.
She had no interest in going to game five, which are just 15-points. The Elks are 3-1 in game five’s this year. “No, those are really stressful,” she said.
Andover dynasty ends
Andover, section champion the last five years, was ousted by North Branch 25-22, 25-20, 23-25, 16-25, 15-12 on Friday. The Huskies beat the Elks this year but finished 12-15 and were seeded fifth.
Anoka (21-7) prevailed 25-20, 25-22, 20-25, 25-20 over Cambidge-Isanti.
The Elks now focus on St. Francis, a team they beat 21-25, 25-11, 27-25, 26-24 in the season opener Aug. 23.