History is one thing the Central Lakes College Raiders volleyball team has on its side as it prepares to face Rainy River for the Region 13B championship Saturday.
The teams square off 3 p.m. at CLC with the winner moving on to the National Junior College Athletic Association Division III tournament at Rochester Nov. 14-15.
It's fitting these rivals face each other with a national tournament berth on the line.
"Every time we play Rainy we know it's a meaningful game," Raiders coach Jane Peterson said. "The rivalry gets more and more fun each time we see each other."
Since Peterson took over the reins at CLC in 1991, the Raiders hold a 23-11 advantage over the Voyageurs. In those 13 years, Rainy River has only won the season series against the Raiders three times. CLC is 3-1 against the Voyageurs this season, including a playoff win to determine the North Division winner and a semifinal win at the state tournament last weekend.
Region 13B Championship
Raiders vs. Rainy River
When: 3 p.m. Saturday
More importantly, the Raiders are 2-0 against Rainy River in Region 13B title games. In 2000 and 2001, CLC beat the Voyageurs to go to nationals where it won two national championships.
Even Peterson and Voyageur coach Mel Millerbernd have developed a rivalry, albeit a friendly one.
"We just usually smile at each other," said Peterson. "When we switch sides we always joke about things that happened in the game. There might've been a shoulder bump here and there but in a very friendly way."
In order to come out alive, the Raiders will have to find a way to slow down the hitting duo of Erin Aker and Carlea Staehnke. Aker finished second in the state in kills per game with 4.54. Staehnke was fifth in the state in kills at 3.90 and second in the state in digs per game at 4.34.
Peterson knows the Voyageurs' depth is thin beyond Aker and Staehnke, meaning Rainy River's offense will run through the two of them.
"That's what they have to do," Peterson said of the Voyageurs' attack. "That's how they've been successful. (Aker and Staehnke) are their offensive weapons that they have to use. They don't have a lot of other choices.
"(Rainy River) hasn't been in a good rhythm the last two times we played them and I worry about if they do get into a good rhythm then they can be a very dangerous team."
The Raiders are also a dangerous team, probably more dangerous than Rainy River because they have more scoring options.
CLC's offense starts and stops with middle hitters Lane tenCate and Shannon McCarthy. TenCate leads the team in kills with 413. McCarthy was second with 277 kills and led the team with 101 blocks.
But the key to the Raiders' fortunes is setter Abby Leach's ability to spread the wealth. Outside hitters Jenny Skiba and Kristin Olson recorded 189 kills and 183 kills, respectively. Skiba also led the team with 240 digs.
"We need to establish our middle hitters," said Peterson. "They know that's what we want to do. We have to make them think it's going to the middle every time. We will use our right-side attack because we think their left-side block is weak.
"Aker is a good blocker so we need to keep her moving. I think our middle hitters are more athletic than she is. They'll use their quickness and stamina."
In the end it may come down to which team has the best six players on the court. Peterson is confident that's her team.
"I'm pretty convinced we're a better team than (Rainy River)," Peterson said. "If we can play like the team we are, then we'll be fine. If we maintain confidence, a good attitude and the desire to win, then we'll win."
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