For whatever reason, the Central Lakes College Raiders seemed to lack focus in Saturday’s Region 13B championship match.
Maybe it was the fact they were extended to five emotional games in Friday’s semifinal win over Mesabi. Whatever the case, the second-seeded and defending champion Northland Pioneers seized the opportunity and repeated as region champs with a 3-0 sweep of the top-seeded Raiders.
“We are really surprised they did not come out to fight more because we know this team, we played them twice, we’ve seen them many times,” Northland coach Abdul Chamma said. “They’ve always been aggressive, they’ve always been together. They’re a scary team.”
CLC sophomore Carlie Sweet was at a loss to explain the Raiders’ struggles against a team they had split with during the regular season.
“We struggled, trying to find the court, and hitting it down, but we stuck with it,” she said. “We kept trying, we played as a team, that’s all you can do.”
One of the many things the Pioneers did was keep the ball away from CLC’s big boppers, Lindsay Monson and Alanna Hansen, as much as possible. The two combined for just 11 kills. Combined, they were averaging 5.55 per game.
“I was shocked by the way (CLC was) handling the ball many times,” Chamma said. “Their libero (Sarah Miller) is a fantastic libero. They have like four hitters who can smoke the ball. They are aggressive at the net all the time. Our main concern was to throw them out of their system and we succeeded at that.”
CLC coach Jane Peterson wasn’t using Friday’s emotional 5-game win as an excuse for Saturday’s effort.
“I don’t think physical exhaustion was the problem,” she said. “I think what is in our heads was more of a problem, which we have talked about a lot. This team probably could have used a full-time sports psychology counselor.
“They try, they do have desire, there is fire. We have a lot of things that great teams have, but mental toughness wasn’t one of them all the time.
“We weren’t mentally prepared today. I think we all tried to be. I don’t think it was a case of we thought it was going to be easy, that we won Friday so we’re going to win (Saturday).
“Today was not our day. And, it was more than one of us that was the problem.”
The Raiders had problems containing Northland’s length at the net. The Pioneers blocked aggresively and their hitters delivered laser-like kills. Northland, which finished fifth in the 2011 Division III national tournament, did just about everything well — tipping, digging, serving. CLC had just two blocks in the match.
“Everything did not go our way,” Peterson said. “The things we’ve been fighting all year — our weaknesses showed up, and even our strengths were not strong today.
“I’m not sure, but I would have to watch that whole match (on tape) to tell you why we couldn’t block a ball. Blocking has been our strength all year.
“For some reason they’re hitting and we’re not even touching it. I don’t know why that is. It looks like we’re there, and somehow they just got the ball through. We’ve been relying on that block to play defense around it so then it’s hard for us to play defense.”
The Raiders led 2-0 in the first game and 1-0 in the others but never led again in each of the three.
But the defeat can’t tarnish a 13-1 Northern Division championship or a 22-7 overall season.
“It was an awesome season,” Sweet said. “I’m so glad that I got to be part of it. We all worked hard, we became a team.”
Peterson said winning 13 of 14 division games on the way to the division title was a “huge accomplishment.”
“It’s too bad it has to end like this because people will forget we were almost 14-0,” she said. “We lost to (Northland) 15-13 (in the fifth game Oct. 17). We played good volleyball a lot of the season.”
■ Miller, Monson
CLC’s Sarah Miller and Lindsay Monson made the 6-player all-tournament team along with Ashley Lindgren and Bailee Walker of Northland, Morgan Hanson of Mesabi and Gabriella Feldt of Itasca.
Northland 25 25 25
Central Lakes 14 19 15
Central Lakes statistics
Crysta Christensen 7 kills, 15 digs, 2 blocks
Alanna Hansen 6 kills, 1 dig
Hayley Hornick 14 digs
Carlie Sweet 3 kills, 3 digs
Tatum Hall 4 digs
Tiffany Hartung 1 kill, 18 set assists, 7 digs
Sami Knott 6 kills, 2 digs
Sarah Miller 1 ace, 16 digs
Lindsay Monson 5 kills, 3 digs
Kelana Wurtinger 4 digs
MIKE BIALKA, sports editor, may be reached at 855-5861. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/bertsballpark.