Friday was a rollercoaster ride for Forest Lake volleyball fans as the Rangers opened the postseason against fifth-seeded Anoka at home.
This was the Rangers’ chance for revenge on the Tornadoes, who beat Forest Lake in the second match of the season, 3-1. The host team, which earned the fourth seed, didn’t let the chance pass by, taking charge in the first two sets and winning 25-13 and 25-19.
But Anoka answered with some blows of its own by taking the third set, 25-21.
In set four, Anoka kept the punches coming by jumping to a 10-4 lead. Outside hitter Megan Lindenfelser wore down Forest Lake’s defense to help her team earn a seven-point cushion at 23-16. Two kills and a block by senior middle hitter Mariah Daninger and an ace by senior setter Kenzie VanBuskirk brought the Rangers within three at 23-20, but Lindenfelser and the Tornadoes took a 25-20 win.
Before play commenced again, Rangers coach Sherri Alm told her team to believe.
“I told them that I believed they could do this,” Alm said. “The crowd started chanting ‘I believe that we will win,’ and just hearing that word and trusting each other to believe is a powerful thing.”
The final set opened with a Daninger tip kill just around the block to zone four for the first point, but the game tied at one when a pass dropped on the hosts’ side.
A point-by-point battle ensued until things were evened up at nine apiece. Anoka committed a double hit to boost the Rangers ahead, 10-9, then made another error in the net to push Forest Lake’s lead to two points.
Following an Anoka time out, seniors Abby Furry and Daninger earned their team points to take a 13-9 lead. Lindenfelser fought back with a kill to zone five, then Forest Lake suffered a four-hits call to put the score at 13-11, forcing Alm to take a timeout.
Lindenfelser struck again from the outside with a kill to bring the Tornadoes within one point at 13-12. But Daninger took matters into her own hands, tapping the ball to zone four for another tip kill. With the score at 14-12, senior Chelsie Bethke set up a block on right side with Daninger, where the two would bring down Lindenfelser and the Tornadoes with a game-winning block.
Alm said her team was ecstatic about extending its season into the section semifinals.
“They were just so excited,” Alm said. “The first thing they said was ‘Yay, we get to have practice on Monday.’”
Daninger posted 17 kills and five blocks, followed by ninth-grader Tia Moscatelli with 11 kills and eight blocks.
“Tia is a quality hitter,” Alm said. “It’s fun seeing her turn around and pick her team up. She just fits in and we’re excited to have her for a couple more years.”
Senior Caitlin Freer, who switched from the middle earlier this season to bring another powerful swing to the outside, put up 10 kills and three blocks for her squad.
Senior libero Bree Raabe came up solid again in the back row with 18 digs, followed by junior Emily Lindstrom with 16 digs.
Senior setters VanBuskirk and Bethke put up 26 and 20 set assists, respectively. VanBuskirk also served 16-16 with two aces.
Senior Lauren Riedeman gave the Rangers a boost and much-needed threat from behind the service line by serving at 96 percent for 13 points to accompany five aces.
“It’s huge having Lauren serving tough back there,” Alm said. “It keeps the other team out of system and takes out their middle hitters. She serves tough and passes well, so that’s a huge contribution to the team.”
Forest Lake faced top-seeded Cambridge-Isanti on the Bluejacket’s home court on Wednesday night in the Section 7AAA semifinal. The winner faces either North Branch (No. 3 seed) or Grand Rapids (No. 2 seed) in the section final at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 2, at Elk River High School.