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North Dickinson bows to Stephenson 3-1 in Division 4 district

STEPHENSON — The Stephenson Eagles girls volleyball team had seen this movie once before and didn’t enjoy the ending, so they decided to write a new one.

One year after Stephenson was bounced from the district semifinals in five games by North Dickinson, the Eagles and Nordics faced off again in the district semifinal round. Only this time, the Eagles came out on top, avenging last season’s defeat with a 3-1 victory on Wednesday.

“North Dickinson is a very good team. It went to five games with them during the season, so we know that they’re good,” Stephenson head coach Sara Johnson said. “We knew that they would bring energy and they’re well-coached, so it was going to take our girls firing on all cylinders. We were tonight and we have been throughout the second half of the season.”

Early on, the match resembled a heavyweight boxing fight, with each team trading blows en route to a 13-13 tied game.

The Eagles broke the game open after a kill by Makayla Johnson and another kill by Paige Cappaert that was set up by nice dig by Gena Anders. An ace from Justine Havelka gave Stephenson a 17-13 advantage, but North Dickinson responded with some good defensive play at the net by Skye Ledzian and Kylie Gustafson that narrowed the gap to 18-17.

Stephenson regained the lead thanks to a kill by Anders, but service errors by the Eagles helped North Dickinson tie the game at 20-20. The two teams traded points until the Nordics jumped ahead courtesy of an ace and a block by Kassandra Cary, who also drilled the set-winning ace to give North Dickinson the 26-24 victory.

“Sometimes, you get into a big game like this and you can freeze up or things won’t go as planned and things didn’t go our way in the first game,” Johnson said. “We looked tight and they were firing away and coming at us. It was exciting to be able to recover from that.”

Good net play by Emily Johnson and a kill by Anders helped Stephenson take an early 6-2 lead in game two, but the Eagles struggled to keep the ball inbounds and allowed the Nordics to tie the game after a block by Cary.

With the game tied 10-10, Emily Johnson served for 11 points and Makayla Johnson added three kills and the Eagles took a commanding 22-11 lead. With their backs against the wall, the Nordics were able to force Stephenson into a few serve/receive errors that helped them cut the deficit to 24-14, but an error of their own doomed North Dickinson and handed the Eagles the 25-14 win that tied the match up at 1-1.

Coach Johnson believes that Emily Johnson’s performance in the second game was when momentum shifted in the Eagles favor for good.

“Emily really stepped up. She fired off 11 in a row and that ended up being the turning point for the entire match. I think North Dickinson got deflated a little bit and I know their program well enough to know that they have the ability to let it go and move on,” she said.

The Nordics had difficulties keeping the ball in play as game three began, and kills by Cappaert and Makayla Johnson swelled Stephenson’s lead to 9-1. North Dickinson began to rally by playing tenacious defense and made the score 11-5 after forcing the Eagles into errors of their own. The Eagles regained the lead off kills by Makayla Johnson and took game three 25-8 after an ace by Emily Johnson.

Coach Johnson said that the play of frontline players, along with how well the Eagles served, was key to a Stephenson victory.

“We have a lot of options in the front row and it felt like every option that we put out there was firing away,” she said. “Once we had that in place, we needed our serves to come through. We were a little weak on that in the beginning, so once the ace serves came, then it seemed like things started to pick up.”

The Eagles continued their domination in the fourth and final set, jumping out to an 8-0 lead off a kill by Makayla Johnson and a service ace by Emily Johnson. North Dickinson got back into the game thanks to Stephenson’s inability to keep the ball in bounds.

An ace by Vanessa Lindholm and a kill from Briana Smith helped the Nordics make it a 22-6 game, but an ace from Skylar Swanson and a kill by Makayla Johnson shut the door any North Dickinson comeback and gave Stephenson the 25-8 win and awarded them the match by a score of 4-1.

Makayla Johnson recorded 20 kills on 45 attempts while Cappaert chipped in 10 and Anders tallied nine. Anders also had a team-high 18 digs. Emily Johnson led the Eagles with 10 aces and 30 assists while Havelka had 12 digs as well.

“I’m so glad we get to play another game because I don’t want this to end. They’re such great kids and this is so much fun,” coach Johnson said.

Next up for the Eagles are the district finals against Carney-Nadeau today at 6 p.m.

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