Following a 3-0 win over Duluth Denfeld to open section playoffs last Wednesday, the Ranger volleyball squad ended its season two days later with a 17-15 loss to St. Francis in an exciting fifth set of the Section 7AAA quarterfinals.
On Forest Lake won handily over the Duluth squad with scores of 25-15, 25-16, 25-14 at the home match.
On Friday night in St. Francis, Forest Lake started slow, adjusting to the sudden loss of starting outside hitter and captain, Morris, during warm-ups to an ankle injury that kept her sidelined for the night. Head coach Sherri Alm said the injury was devastating.
“She has been an anchor and has great ball-control skills– the look on the girls’ faces and the tears she had were hard to swallow,” Alm said. “But we needed to regroup fast and play.”
Morris looked on from the bench as the Fighting Saints controlled the court for a 25-20 win over the sixth-seeded Rangers in the first set.
Forest Lake came back swinging to start the second set, taking a nine-point lead before No. 3-seed St. Francis’s hitter Maggie Ewen overpowered the Ranger defense with kill after kill from the left side. The Rangers fell 25-23.
The Forest Lake team refused to let its guard down and came back strong again in the third set. Junior Caitlin Freer, usually a middle hitter, became more comfortable filling in for Morris at the left hitter position to become another offensive weapon. Senior setters Brenna Blake and Rachel Shumaker distributed the ball well between all positions to help their team take a 25-20 win in the third.
Forest Lake opened the fourth set with a mission, and despite a scrappy Fighting Saints defense, put the ball down with the help of Lautigar and Haug to win 25-20.
The Rangers opened the fifth set with a 4-1 run, again in a team effort. The squads evened it up with both remaining aggressive on offense to keep it a point-to-point battle between hitters. Two controversial calls by the line refs in game five changed the course of the match for the Rangers, as the Fighting Saints won 17-15 after tooling off the Forest Lake block to seal the win.
“I thought we played really well,” Haug said. “I wanted to keep playing and go as far as we could since it was our last game. But I can’t be mad, because we pushed as hard as we possibly could have. I was just proud of our team and thankful for getting to play with them.”
Haug, an offensive constant this season, had 13 kills and five aces to lead the Ranger offense, followed by a standout effort by Lautigar with a season-high 12 kills.
“I thought she [Lautiger] did awesome,” Blake said. “I was really impressed and felt like she had a lot of confidence on the court that night. I just kept feeding her because she was on fire.”
Freer made her left-side debut with eight kills and 11 digs while Lindstrom recorded seven kills. Junior Mariah Daninger added six kills and three blocks.
Lindstrom led the defense with 20 digs, followed by Kruger, the senior libero, with 13 digs. Senior Carli Kirchner recorded 11 digs while Haug, Blake and Shumaker all added six.
Blake and Shumaker ran the 6-2 offense efficiently and equally, with Blake recording 29 assists and Shumaker contributing 21.
Alm said the near-upset over St. Francis was a team effort all-around.
“This group really got along well and I saw them come together and play hard,” Alm said. “After the tough loss I just told them, coming back after being down 0-2 says a lot– you have nothing to hang your heads about.”
The Rangers closed the 2012 season with an overall record of 14-14, and a conference record of 5-4.