Year of milestones

The Northern Cass volleyball team accomplished a lot of firsts this year.

The Jaguars won their first Region 1 title, earned their first state tournament appearance, won their first match at state and – most importantly – won their first championship, not just in volleyball history, but in school history.

Top-seeded Northern Cass rallied to win the final three sets in a 3-1 victory against No. 3-seeded LaMoure in the Class B state tournament title match Saturday at the Minot State University Dome. It was the Loboes’ first trip to the championship as well.

“This is what we’ve been working for all year long,” Northern Cass senior outside hitter Vanessa Johnson said. “This is what every single game has come up to and we feel like we worked for it and we deserved it.”

Johnson tallied a match-high 27 kills in the 23-25, 25-18, 25-20, 25-16 victory. She was named to the all-state team and the all-tournament team. It’s the third consecutive year the state champion has come from Region 1.

“We made that goal day one that we’re going to state,” Northern Cass coach Tom Klapp said. “I know every team says it, but we believed it.”

The Jaguars’ route to a state championship took an expected detour as LaMoure (36-4) won a back-and-forth first set. The opening game featured four lead changes and seven ties. Tied at 23, the Loboes finished the game with kills by senior outside hitter Siri Armitage and eighth-grader Anna Holen.

Senior outside hitter Courtney Carlson led LaMoure with 17 kills and 28 digs and Holen added 16 kills.

Dropping the first set didn’t deter Klapp and the Jaguars (33-6).

“We’ve done that all year,” Klapp said. “The competition that we play coming from the district kind of gears us up for that. We can drop a game and come back no problem. I wasn’t too worried about it. I was just waiting for them to get their rhythm, get the nerves out, and when we did that we took over.”

Northern Cass did come back no problem, leading the second set from start to finish. The Jaguars led 13-11 before reeling off nine unanswered points. Johnson had four kills during that span and recorded two more down the stretch to square the match.

“They really came out on the attack,” LaMoure coach Laurie Good said. “We seemed to just back off when we needed to go hard at it. They’re a good team.”

Trailing early in the second, the Jaguars received five straight points from senior outside hitter Paige Verwest and classmate Cassie Hilde to jump in front 11-9. LaMoure scored three of the next four points to tie the set, but a kill by Northern Cass senior setter Brianna Olson put the Jaguars in front for the rest of the match.

Northern Cass set the tempo in the fourth. Johnson, Hilde, Verwest and junior middle blocker Erin McDonald made sure the Loboes didn’t force a fifth set. The foursome accounted for 13 of the team’s 14 kills in the fourth game.

Junior defensive specialist Cheyenne Hanson made Northern Cass’ dream of a state championship a reality, recording an ace on championship point.

“We’ve been talking about this since summer and to finally be able to accomplish it feels amazing,” McDonald said. “All our hard work paid off.”

Mike Kraft covers high school athletics and hockey. Follow him on Twitter @MKraft23_MDN.