The St. Cloud Apollo Eagles volleyball team celebrated like it had just won the Central Lakes Conference championship.
It wasn't the conference title but the Eagles deserved to celebrate their first victory in more than 20 conference matches with the Brainerd Warriors, 25-19, 26-28, 25-16, 25-23.
"We tried a new philosophy (Thursday)," first-year Apollo coach Scott Heinen said. "We let the girls take more of an ownership role throughout the match, and it paid off. They stepped up to the challenge. They took good ownership."
Warriors coach Lori Dean said falling to a team in the midst of a long losing streak shouldn't make any difference.
"We don't factor that in," Dean said. "We try to encourage the girls to come out and face every opponent the same way. You really shouldn't be thinking about who it is on the other side but about bringing your same game every night, and coming out strong.
"If that is in the back of our mind then that's playing not to lose. That's not the kind of game we want to be playing."
Dropping the first game wasn't what Brainerd could afford to do. After leading 11-8 the Warriors got outscored 16-8 the rest of the way.
"That's been a goal of ours, to come out strong in the first," Dean said. "Just to have to be right away on defense is a tough way to start."
Brainerd got off to a promising start in the second game, maintained the momentum and emerged with a heart-wrenching 28-26 victory.
In the last two games it was all Eagles, although Brainerd scrapped back in the fourth to trail 24-23 before Apollo pulled out the victory.
The Warriors had a difficult time stopping Apollo middle hitter Angela Friebe, who blasted several kills.
St. Cloud Apollo 3, Warriors 1
The highlight: With the match tied 1-1, Apollo held off Brainerd for its first conference victory in more than 20 matches.
Next match: at Virginia tournament, 10 a.m. Saturday
"She's definitely a go-to player," Heinen said of Friebe. "We did actually mix it up. She usually starts in the back row. We put her in a different rotation to get her some more sets, to get her to move around a little bit to exploit their block. She did a great job of doing that."
The Eagles also capitalized on Brainerd's unforced errors and open spaces on the court.
"I do think our blocking game wasn't all that it could have been," Dean said. "That's something we continue to work on.
"The biggest thing for me is I think we're playing not to lose rather than playing to win. We realize that now. We had a lot of fight at the end of each of those games that we were down. We need to bring that fight out to the front of the game."
Chelsey Weiss 6 digs, 2 aces, 1 kill, 36 set assists
Hannah Fossum 15 digs, 6 kills, 1 block
Joetta Johnson 5 digs, 1 ace, 6 kills
Kelsey Rassatt 13 digs, 12 kills
Kylie Abrahamson 9 digs, 1 ace, 2 blocks
Nikki Gorvin 1 dig
Paige Olson 4 digs, 4 aces, 11 kills, 4 blocks
Conference -- SCA 1-8, B 1-7. Overall -- SCA 3-15, B 4-8.
Mike Bialka can be reached at email@example.com or at 855-5861.
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