5A Playoffs: Down to four teams: Braham volleyball found itself down 8-0 at the start of the 5A subsection semifinal match at home Oct. 30, but the Bombers quickly found their way to roll past McGregor in three: 25-21, 25-17, 25-15. The victory sends Braham to the subsection finals for first time since 1999.
“When realized if we shut down their middle, their whole team shut down because their middle was really their leader,” said senior Dani Braund on turning the key on McGregor. “We’ve been building our chemistry since summer. We know what our individual roles are, we play them out to the best of our abilities, and in the end we come out with the win.”
The Mercuries’ 6’2” middle hitter Rachel Sather was a main presence to overcome at the start, and the Bombers began rallying on crucial digs from Kayla Nickles and Bella Williams, along with a huge serving string from Angie Bendickson which lifted Braham to an 18-12 advantage. An Alyssa Thom block on Sather and kills from Carley Lynch and Sara Tomlinson finished the job in Game 1.
Thom brought the heat on her serves in Game 2, with consecutive aces at the start, then three more points off serve at the end including another ace. Braund and Nickles also tipped well to the deep part of the court for more points, and Braund ran off a seven-point service string which held two booming aces. The Mercuries began folding as they got away from their hard spiking showing from Game 1.
“It’s so exciting getting the big serves in. I try my hardest, and try to get us ahead,” said Thom. On shutting down the taller Mercuries, she continued, “We watch for how they hit, and make sure we line up with the blocks to try to shut them down. Once we do, we just go all-out with our hits.”
The Bombers smelled blood and jumped out to a 10-1 lead in Game 3 on more tough serves from Nickles and Thom. Crafty tips and perfect sets from Lynch maintained the pressure. Thom ripped one more ace to make it 20-12, then the Bombers finished off the win on kills from Braund, Lynch and Nickles.
Braham (18-4) will next play in the 5A East Subsection finals against defending section champ Nevis (22-8) at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 1 at Pierz. The West Subsection finals between Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa (24-7) and Upsala (27-5) will be at 6 p.m. in the same gym. Winners will meet on Saturday, Nov. 3 (7 p.m.) for the Sectin 5A championship back at Pierz.
Nevis finished last season as the Class A runners-up to Bethlehem Academy. Top players returning from that team are 6’1” senior hitter Riley Hanson and 5’10” junior hitter Megan Norby.
“Nevis is going to be very tough. But I watched our team really grow from Day 1. It’s all about playing the game, working hard, and having fun,” said Bomber Coach Britne Engelking after the McGregor match. “The girls figured out it’s a lot more fun to win. I knew the success we have had this season was a possiblity if everybody played how we can play, and that’s what happened to us tonight. So I hope we keep playing like this.”
• Top-seed Braham opened the 5A tourney with a blistering three-game sweep of No. 5 seed Barnum Oct. 26: 25-15, 25-10, 25-15.
Bombers vs. Barnum: Lynch– 3 kills, 3 blocks; Nickles– 7 digs, 4 kills; Tomlinson– 5 kills, 4 aces; Braund– 4 kills, 5 blocks; Thom– 4 aces, 2 kills; Bendickson– 4 digs, 2 kills; Williams– 2 digs.
Bombers vs. McGregor: Lynch– 14 digs, 29 assists, 7 kills; Nickles– 24 digs, 11 kills, 2 aces; Tomlinson– 20 digs, 6 kills; Braund– 10 kills, 2 aces; Thom– 7 aces, 6 kills; Bendickson– 10 digs, 5 kills.