by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
The Elk River volleyball season and prep careers of a solid senior class ended Tuesday night with a 3-0 loss to St. Francis and its powerful spiker Maggie Ewen.
The Elks, who had beaten the Saints in the season opener, went down quickly in the Section 7AA semifinal rematch at home, 25-19, 25-14, 25-22.
Across the net from the Elks was quite possibly the strongest female high school athlete in the state. Ewen, a three-time state discus champion (and all-time record-holder) and two-time shot put champion, picked up steam as the match wore on and blistered the Elks for 22 kills.
Along with Ewen’s prowess, the Saints were steadier all categories, passing, serving, hitting, than the Elks.
“Whomever makes the least errors is going to win, and tonight, that wasn’t us,” said Elk coach Pam Gothe. “It’s really sad, because I think we had it in us. I know we did.”
The Elks finished 17-12. They were 12-4 at one point, then went 5-8 in their last 13 outings, including a playoff win over Duluth East. No. 3 seed St. Francis will take a 21-8 record (11-2 in their last 13) into the section finals Saturday vs. top-seeded Anoka (22-7) at Andover, 7 p.m.
Two players who’ll rank high on Elk all-time lists in multiple categories, Janell Finkbeiner and Kara Ziemer, played their last game. Also bowing out were Lindsey Lowe, Brittni Gillquist, Bailey Lundquist, Rachel Anderson and Austyn Beese. They had two straight winning seasons, 16-14 last year, when they reached the section finals.
“That senior group, that’s going to be a lot to lose,” said Gothe. “They all did a great job for us. They are excellent athletes and great kids to wok with. We’ll have the memories of the family we built this year … They took it hard. There were lots of tears.”
Ewen, 5-foot-11 but not much of a leaper, has a jackhammer swing that produces kill after kill even without getting on top of the ball. She landed several tips as well. Nobody else had more than five kills. Caitlin Luby led their efficient back-row defense with 15 digs.
The Saints had six serve errors and four kills, a little better than the Elks, who had nine errors and four kills.
Ziemer drilled 12 kills and Finkbeiner seven for the Elks. Finkbeineer also notched 15 assists and 16 digs. Ziemer made 13 digs, Gillquist 12 and Anderson 10.
The Elks opened the season with a 21-25, 25-11, 27-25, 26-24 win at St. Francis. Gothe said the Elks served well enough that night to take the Saints out of their normal offense and limit Ewen to tips and off-balance spikes. But that wasn’t the case in the rematch. The serves weren’t as strong, and the Saints threw a different style of offense at the Elks that confused them.
“They played off-speed, instead of swing, tonight. It messed with our defense,” said the coach. “We adjusted, but we still weren’t picking up the ball. Give credit to St. Francis. They played the best game I’ve seen them play.”
With shaky defense, the Elks could not get their offense going for any length of time. And that meant the end of a promising season