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Titans topple Wagner for Region 5A title

PLANKINTON -- Earlier this season -- almost exactly one month ago -- Mount Vernon/Plankinton was beaten by region rival Wagner for its first loss of the year, ending a streak of 18 victories to open the season. The loss was largely attributed to ...

Mount Vernon/Plankinton's Megan Bultsma (15) attempts a kill over the arms of Wagner's Adrian Weber, left, and Emily Brunsing, right, during the Region 5A volleyball championship game Tuesday in Plankinton. (Marcus Traxler/Republic)
Mount Vernon/Plankinton's Megan Bultsma (15) attempts a kill over the arms of Wagner's Adrian Weber, left, and Emily Brunsing, right, during the Region 5A volleyball championship game Tuesday in Plankinton. (Marcus Traxler/Republic)

PLANKINTON - Earlier this season - almost exactly one month ago - Mount Vernon/Plankinton was beaten by region rival Wagner for its first loss of the year, ending a streak of 18 victories to open the season. The loss was largely attributed to a lack of energy from the Titans.

But on Tuesday, in front of a loud crowd in their home gym and a trip to the state tournament on the line, the Titans didn't allow for a letdown again.

This time, it was Mount Vernon/Plankinton with the energy and the victory, winning in four sets and defeating Wagner in the Region 5A championship game for a second straight year.

Set scores were 25-12, 22-25, 25-19 and 27-25 in favor of the Titans.

The Titans (29-2) advance to the eight-team state Class A volleyball tournament next Thursday through Saturday in Sioux Falls. The Red Raiders' season ends at 28-6.

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"I never really thought about it being the second time going to state because we knew it was going to be a battle," MV/P coach Darcy Deinert said. "It was just going to be really hard and Wagner is just a really, really good team. I told the girls we had to come out and fight. We knew we had to fight for everything."

The Titans also learned a few lessons from that Oct. 12 three-set loss that they applied to Tuesday night's contest. They practiced a lot more defensive techniques focused on blocking and digging, to prepare themselves for the Wagner attackers.

"We were talking a lot and we were communicating," senior middle hitter Megan Bultsma said. "We could tell when we were going tip because we were talking with each other. We had the communication and we brought the intensity."

The preparation showed on the stat sheet. Four MV/P players had at least 16 digs, including Erin Denning with 19 digs, Mikayla Weiss with 17 digs and Makaela Karst and Ivy Haines each with 16 scoops.

"We spent a lot of time making sure we were ready for them and learning from last time out," Haines said. "We brought the energy and made sure that wasn't going to be a problem this time."

In set one, MV/P took advantage of a handful of Wagner errors to win the opening set easily and was on its way to a convincing 2-0 lead, when the Red Raiders mounted a rally and can thank the powerful right arm of Jensen Holzbauer. Wagner head coach Amy Tyler said they realized that Holzbauer was only being guarded by one player and let the junior hitter go to work.

Down 22-10, Wagner went to Holzbauer for six kills and got three more from Emily Brunsing to turn the tide. Wagner scored 15 points in a row to shock MV/P, winning the set 25-22 and evening the match score 1-1.

The third set was close midway through until a kill from Karst, an ace by Destiney Haak and a kill by Haines put MV/P up 20-15 and the Titans took the set by six points, 25-19.

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In the fourth set, Wagner broke free from a 17-17 tie, with a double block from Ali Kuca and Faith Tyler and then a Holzbauer kill to take a two-point advantage. But later, ahead 24-20, the lead wouldn't hold up and four game point chances slipped past the Red Raiders. Two points later, Bultsma had a kill to break a 25-25 tie and on match point, a tipped ball by Karst through the Wagner defense fell to floor, sending MV/P's players into delirium.

The Titans' trio of hitters gave Wagner problems all night. Makaela Karst had 14 kills, while Megan Bultsma had 13 kills and Haines had 12 kills.

"We didn't come out with the energy we needed," Tyler said. "We started to make adjustments but sometimes it was almost too late. After Game 2, we had the momentum and we just didn't do it. I thought they played hard but MV/P is a good team."

For the Red Raiders, Holzbauer had a game-high 15 kills, while Adrian Weber had 13 kills. Krista Dvorak had 28 assists for Wagner, while Ali Kuca had 36 digs and five blocks. Rachel Dion had 28 digs.

MV/P finished in fourth place at last year's Class A tournament and now the Titans are going back, brimming with confidence that they can improve on that result.

"I think we're confident because we know what we're capable of," Karst said. "And we're ready to show it next week."

Traxler is the assistant editor and sports editor for the Mitchell Republic. He's worked for the newspaper since 2014 and has covered a wide variety of topics. He can be reached at mtraxler@mitchellrepublic.com.
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