The comeback was going to be historic. After losing the first two sets in the Section 5A Volleyball Championship match Saturday night in Little Falls and trailing in the third, the Lady Wolves clawed past Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa in the third and fourth sets, and built what seemed to be a commanding lead in the fifth set.
WHA led 14-9 in the fifth set after a Jaguars’ serving error, and the Walker-Hackensack-Akeley fans got ready to celebrate. The Wolves needed only one point to advance to their first statevolleyball tournament since 1978.
But the aggressive play that the Wolves showed in the third and fourth sets, and most of the fifth, became passive. It appeared they were playing like they were trying not to lose instead of attacking.
The passes were off, so the set assists weren’t perfect. The blocking at the net, which was incredible after the first two sets, was unable to stop the Jaguars’ three big hitters, despite Coach Bonnie Sea using her second time out — she used the first when WHA fell behind 7-4 early in the set — to settle her team down.
It never came, as BBE scored seven straight points for a 16-14 win, and along with that, the brilliant careers of 12th-graders Megan Benjamin, Rachel Pitt and Bri Raddatz were over.
The tears flowed freely on each player’s faces as each one, along with managers and coaches received a silver medal. The three seniors accepted the second-place trophy, when only moments earlier nearly everyone in the house thought WHA was ready to receive gold medals and the first-place trophy.
Give the Jaguars credit, as they worked hard to get back to state for the second straight year.
Benjamin had a monster game, finishing with 22 kills and was perfect on serve in 22 attempts and three aces. She added 14 digs and four assisted blocks on defense.
Raddatz had 42 assists, four kills, two aces and 16 digs.
Pitt was perfect on serve in 16 attempts with one ace, had one kill and nine digs.
Katie Sagen finished with 12 kills, Kali Oelschlager and Aleah Tabbert each had five kills, and Abi Strandlie added two.
On the defensive side, Oelschlager had three solo blocks and Sagen two. Ally Sea had a team high 20 digs.
BBE had a 59-51 kill advantage with Brittany Berge leading the team with 22 kills. Grace Illies and Karissa Jones each had 12.
The Jaguars also led in digs 83 to 77, 10-6 on ace serves and had 56 to WHA’s 48 assists.
WHA did have four fewer errors and served at 95 percent compared to 92 percent for BGE.
BBE did not trail once as they took the first two sets, 25-22 and 25-13. The Jaguars also jumped ahead in the third set 3-0, but behind two ace serves by Raddatz, WHA tied it at 3-3. WHA would take its first lead at 5-4 and slowly increased the lead to 12-8.
A few minutes later the Wolves were up 18-12, forcing the Jaguars to use their second time out. WHA extended the lead to 19-12, but once Benjamin rotated to the back row, BBE cut the lead to 20-17.
After Sea called a time out, Oelschlager, Sagen and Tabbert made their presence felt and were able to get some hands on some kills that WHA would turn into points. Tabbert’s block put the Wolves up 24-18, and a short time later the Wolves were celebrating with a 25-19 win.
BGE started the next set strong, but the Wolves got some kills from Benjamin to grab the momentum to take a 10-7 lead. Despite a time out, WHA extended the lead to 18-12 on another Benjamin kill.
Benjamin’s fourth kill of the set was followed by three blocks by Oelschlager, with Benjamin adding another kill and Raddatz’s tip kill giving WHA a 25-18 win.
After the three-minute time out between sets, BGE got off to a great start, but three kills by Benjamin and kills by Tabbert and Sagen got WHA back in the match. The set was tied 7-7 when Benjamin went back to serve. An ace by Benjamin drew a Jaguars time out, with WHA extending the lead to 12-7 on Raddatz’s tip kill, another Benjamin ace and a kill by Tabbert.
Unlike the first two sets where the Wolves had trouble scoring when Benjamin was in the back row, WHA was able to do that in the final three. Oelschlager followed with a kill as did BBE, but a long serve gave Walker a 14-9 lead.
BBE followed with two kills that the Wolves were unable to get a hand on, and a block by BBE cut the lead to 14-12, with Sea calling her last time out.
A kill attempt by WHA was long, and a passing error tied the match. Another kill by Walker was blocked for a point, with the last point hitting the floor as the Wolves were unable to get to the loose ball after a block.
The Wolves end the season with a 24-7 record, while BGE moves to State with a 23-8 mark.