WINTHROP - When the Minnesota Valley Lutheran volleyball team won the third set of Thursday's Tomahawk Conference volleyball match against Gibbon-Fairfax-Winthrop after dropping the first two, it seemed like it might be nothing more than small consolation.
By the time the Chargers had taken the fourth set, too, it was clear that they were a team that wasn't going to be stopped.
MVL proceeded to roll over the home team with a thoroughly dominant fifth set, putting an exclamation point on its stunning 22-25, 21-25, 25-23, 25-20, 15-5 come-from-behind victory.
Staff photo by Daniel Kerwin
Minnesota Valley Lutheran's Sarah Burke (9) attempts to block a hit by Gibbon-Fairfax-Winthrop's Eve Bleick (2) during Thursday's Tomahawk Conference volleyball match in Winthrop.
"It's unbelievable," Chargers senior Allison Collum said. "We were down, but we kept our heads up and we just played as hard as we could. That was one of our best games this season and we're all very proud."
The match was closely contested throughout, but in the early going it was the Thunderbirds that were winning all the key points.
After falling behind 12-6 in the first set, GFW rallied to tie things at 18-18 to set up a tight finish.
MVL's Rebekka Olsen (six kills) put down a kill to cut a late GFW lead to 23-22, but Morgan Wenninger came up with a big ace block for the home side to bring up set point, which was converted when Olsen hit out of bounds on the next point.
The second set was just as close as the first, with a kill by MVL senior Sarah Burk (team-high 22 kills, four blocks) tying the score at 16-16.
The Thunderbirds then took control, launching a 6-1 run that included an ace block by Erin McDurmont (12 kills, three blocks), a pair of kills by Edie Beranek (11 kills, one ace, 17 digs) and a kill by Katelyn Seehafer. Wenninger put down an ace block on set point to give GFW a 2-0 lead in the match.
"We blocked really well and we got some really nice hits, we got them down real hard," Seehafer said of her team's early strengths in the match. "We kept our serves in for the most part, and that's good."
The Thunderbirds continued to play well deep into the third set, with an ace serve by Wenninger giving GFW a 17-12 lead, but the Chargers weren't about to give up on the match.
"Everyone was kind of really tired and down, but coach told us, 'Just pick it up,'" Collum said. "With the more points we got, the more energy we got, too, and we just kept it together."
GFW was ahead 22-20 late in the set, but consecutive ace blocks by Rylee Weisensel (three blocks) tied the score at 22-22.
Laura Schoenherr followed with two straight ace serves. Wenninger earned a kill to deny the Chargers on their first set point, but Wenninger missed wide on the next point to give set three to the visitors.
Burk got the Chargers off on the right foot in the fourth set, winning the first two points with kills, but neither team was able to build a lead of more than three points.
After the score was tied 18-18, consecutive kills by Olsen and Burk gave MVL the lead for good, with Rachel Olsen (six kills) finishing off the set with an ace block.
"I'm really proud that they kept swinging away and didn't give up," MVL head coach Sara Gieseke said. "When it gets to a slow-pace tipping game, then it's just not aggressive volleyball, and we really like to pound away at it. I was really proud that even after being down two, they still kept their heads up and were playing the game they know how to play."
Collum opened the fifth set with a four-point service run, and by then the Chargers couldn't contain their energy on the court, getting more and more pumped up with each point. After a GFW time out, MVL proceeded to increase the lead to 7-1, forcing another time out by the home side.
Collum admitted that she was almost shaking as the set progressed and that she and her teammates were filled with nervous energy.
"During one of the timeouts I told them to stay in control - be excited about what they're doing and stay in control and not get too excited about what's going on," Gieseke said.
With the score at 12-5 in MVL's favor, the teams put together a seemingly never-ending rally, but when Beranek missed long to give the point to the Chargers, the outcome of the match was no longer in doubt.
Wenninger had a team-high 14 kills for the Thunderbirds and also added four aces and 18 set assists. Adding top contributions for the team were Bleick (two aces, 27 digs), Sydney Fromm (22 set assists), Lexi Jensen (20-for-20 serving, 17 digs) and Halle Busse (17 digs).
Carlie Maasz had a team-high 24 digs for the Chargers and added nine kills. Collum had 20 digs and Martha Johnston added 11 digs and 44 set assists.
MVL (12-11-2, 4-3) will take the confidence it gained on Thursday into its home match-up against Maple River on Monday.
"We definitely know that if we just do the same thing, we can beat any team if we just all work our hardest," Collum said. "We know that we can come back if we ever get down again."
GFW (14-7, 5-2) will look to rebound from a two-match losing streak when it travels to play Sleepy Eye on Tuesday.
"We just need to stay together as a team and keep pushing hard and we can keep winning and playing well together," Seehafer said. "I have confidence in us."