Based on Forest Lake’s first set of the section semifinal volleyball match at Cambridge-Isanti last Wednesday, the outcome favored the Rangers. Instead, last year’s section heartbreak at St. Francis repeated, this time with a nail-biting loss to the Bluejackets in five sets.
Senior Mariah Daninger set the tone immediately in set one with two kills right off the bat before fellow middle hitter, ninth-grader Tia Moscatelli, came in to answer two Bluejackets scores and earn another Ranger point to keep the lead at 3-2. Following a hitting error then kill by Cambridge-Isanti, Moscatelli blocked another Bluejacket’s attack to even things up at four.
The Rangers took advantage of a second hitting error and net violation by the home team with the help of senior Chelsie Bethke. The setter/right side hitter marked three aces in a row to give Forest Lake a 9-4 cushion en route to a 25-18 win.
The roles reversed in sets two and three, as the Rangers dropped both, 25-17.
Facing a 2-1 deficit and possible season-ending set, Daninger opened set four with a big kill off a set by senior Kenzie VanBuskirk. Cambridge-Isanti answered with a tip kill in the middle of the court to even things up. Power changed hands when the Bluejackets jumped ahead for an early lead at 10-6 and eventually pulled ahead 14-6, before the Rangers clawed their way back within four points at 21-17.
Junior Megan Gemuenden entered the game to serve for Moscatelli and earned an ace off the bench to put the score at 21-18 before hitting errors by Cambridge-Isanti’s big freshman gun, Claire Sheehan, tied things up at 21. A shanked pass by Forest Lake and two kills by the home team’s Korbyn Felde put the Bluejackets up 24-21.
At set and match point, Daninger took charge. The middle hitter swung away to find the floor off a three-set by Bethke, who set the power hitter despite a pass off the net. The kill put Forest Lake within two points. Daninger took charge on net again by sweeping an overpass to an open spot on the court, bringing her team within one point at 24-23.
Cambridge-Isanti committed a double hit, then another misdirected pass off a tip by Daninger to put the Rangers up one, 25-24. The senior middle sealed the set off a big block on the outside.
“I was just thinking ‘This isn’t it. It’s not over,’” Daninger said. “Our whole team pulled together and played with our hearts those last few points.”
The back-and-forth battle ensued in the final set. With the score tied at five, Bethke set Moscatelli for a quick kill to give the Rangers their first lead at 6-5. It was short-lived, however, as a missed serve by the visiting team followed.
Senior Kristy Dellwo and Moscatelli earned a block kill on a Felde swing to go ahead again, but Forest Lake lost the
lead when a misdirected pass went outside the antenna.
Bethke ran another quick set off a perfect pass by junior Emily Lindstrom, this time to Daninger, for a kill and an 8-7 lead. Two mis-hits by Forest Lake and a net violation on Cambridge-Isanti tied the game at nine. The Rangers would commit a passing error and hitting error next to fall behind, 11-9, forcing head coach Sherri Alm to call a timeout.
VanBuskirk put the Rangers back on track with a quick set to Daninger for another kill in the middle. The Bluejackets were then called for a lift, tying the score at 11 apiece.
But Sheehan continued to wreak havoc on the Forest Lake defense with two kills from the outside to push her team ahead 12-11. The Rangers committed an offensive error, then were blocked to fall behind 14-11. Sheehan sealed the victory and trip to the section final by tooling off the Forest Lake block for the final point.
Daninger led her squad with 17 kills, hitting at 88 percent, with four blocks and 14-14 serving. Moscatelli tallied 10 kills and five blocks, while seniors Caitlin Freer and Abby Furry added six kills apiece.
Senior Bree Raabe led the defense with 19 digs, followed by Bethke (12) and senior Lauren Riedeman (10), who also went 18-18 serving. Lindstrom added eight digs.
VanBuskirk recorded 24 set assists while Bethke had 19.
Daninger pulled her weight in statistics this season by leading the Rangers in four categories. The all-state nominee recorded 275 kills, a .401 kill efficiency, 69 blocks and served 292-305 for 96 percent from behind the line.
Freer had 177 kills, 37 blocks and a .233 kill efficiency to earn all-conference honorable mention honors. Moscatelli became a regular starter halfway through the season and recorded 99 kills, 45 blocks and a .302 kill efficiency.
On the right side, Bethke earned all-conference honorable mention by putting away 127 kills. She led the team in aces with 61, earned her squad 166 points while serving and put up 322 set assists. VanBuskirk led in setting with 448 assists and 23 aces on the season.
In the back row, Raabe dug a team-high 325 hits to earn all-conference honors, while Riedeman recorded 248 digs, 44 aces and led her team in points while serving with 224 to earn all-conference honorable mention. Lindstrom added 241 digs and 29 aces.
Forest Lake went 15-13 overall, posting the squad’s first winning season since 2009, when the Rangers went 21-8 and took second in the section.
Daninger said she was proud of the season and her team.
“It feels pretty good,” the middle said. “We had a lot of seniors to help push extra hard—we realized how important each point was and we pushed for everything.”