ROCHESTER - The day ended better than it started for Central Lakes on the opening day of the National Junior College Division III Volleyball Tournament Friday at Rochester Community and Technical College.
Raiders coach Jane Peterson was wondering if her team knew which end was up in its first three-game pool play match.
"We couldn't serve, we were pretty jittery," she said. "We didn't look like a very good team. One-third of the points we gave up were on service errors."
Despite 17 service errors, Central Lakes beat Suffolk County (NY) 30-19, 30-21, 30-12.
Then things got better for the Raiders.
After another three-game win against Alfred State (N.Y.), they won two of three over two-time national champion Brookhaven (Texas) to finish first in their pool with an 8-1 record and advanced to Saturday's semifinals against Edison (Ohio). Ridgewater (Willmar) gained a spot in the other semifinal match against Brookhaven.
Central Lakes, competing in the national tournament for the seventh time in eight years, needed a win over Brookhaven in Game No. 3 of its match to win its pool. A loss would have left the Raiders second in the pool and put them in the semifinals against defending national champion and nationally top-ranked Ridgewater, something Peterson didn't want.
"It's no fun to lose to a Minnesota school in the semifinals; we'd rather play them for the championship," she said.
Brookhaven took an 18-13 lead over Central Lakes in the deciding game, forcing Peterson to take a time out.
"I told the girls they had to get mentally tough," she said.
And they did. They went on an 8-2 run to go in front 21-20 and never trailed again, finally winning the game 32-30 on a kill by Shayna Foote.
"We were worried a lot," the Raiders' Krista Meyer said after the team fell behind, "but we kept our focus. Besides, we didn't want to play Ridgewater in the semifinals."
Most of the match against Brookhaven was a nail-biter. After taking an 18-9 lead in the first game, Central Lakes eked out a 31-29 win with a kill by Meyer deciding the outcome.
In the second game the Raiders were outscored 9-0 in one stretch and lost 30-23, their only defeat of the day.
But it was the third match everybody was talking about.
"I saw mental toughness on the part of our players that I hadn't seen all year," Peterson said. "I saw a team that really wanted to win."
The Raiders, ranked No. 2 in the nation, featured a balanced attack. Meyer had 14 kills and 17 digs, Anna Davis Peterson had 18 kills, Rachel Voeltz had 12 kills, Lisa Kurtz had 22 set assists and seven kills, Foote had 13 digs, Jill Wizik had 19 set assists and Heather Kapinos had nine digs.
"Everybody contributed," Peterson said. "It would be difficult to single anybody out."
Brookhaven came into the tournament with a 20-21 record, but most of its opponents were Division I and II schools. Brookhaven won the national tournament in 2004 and 2005 before Ridgewater broke its spell in 2006.
After its wins over Suffolk County, Peterson said her team "settled down," in beating Alfred 30-25, 30-25, 30-28.
"We served a lot better," she said.
Kurtz also had a monster game with 13 kills in 23 attempts.
But, in the end, it was the performance against Brookhaven that had Peterson smiling.
"It should give our confidence a big boost," she said. "And that's what you need when you get to this tournament."
1. Ridgewater (MN) 8-1
2. Edison (OH) 7-2
3. Rock Valley (IL) 3-6
4. Catawba Valley (NC) 0-9
Edison def. Rock Valley 30-27, 30-27, 30-27
Ridgewater def. Catawba Valley
30-14, 30-17, 30-15
Edison def. Catawba Valley 30-17, 30-23, 30-16
Ridgewater def. Rock Valley 30-10, 30-22, 30-24
Rock Valley def. Catawba Valley 30-17, 30-17, 30-13
Ridgewater def. Edison 30-22, 30-25, 17-30
1. Central Lakes (MN) 8-1
2. Brookhaven (TX) 6-3
3. Alfred State (NY) 3-6
4. Suffolk County (NY) 1-8
Brookhaven def. Alfred State 30-28, 30-22, 30-28
Central Lakes def. Suffolk County
30-19, 30-21, 30-12
Brookhaven def. Suffolk County
31-33, 30-24, 30-26
Central Lakes def. Alfred State
30-25, 30-25, 30-28
Alfred State def.. Suffolk County
30-25, 30-23, 30-25
Central Lakes def. Brookhaven
31-29, 23-30, 32-30
Ridgewater vs. Brookhaven, 10 a.m.
Central Lakes vs. Edison, 10 a.m.
Ridgewater-Brookhaven loser vs. Central Lakes-Edison loser, 12:30 p.m.
Ridgewater-Brookhaven winner vs. Central Lakes-Edison winner, 3 p.m.
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