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Twice as nice: MCM sweeps Dakota Valley to secure second straight state berth

SIOUX FALLS--Last season, McCook Central/Montrose went to the state tournament in a bit of a happy-to-be-there moment. With most of its key components back this year, returning to state is an expectation. Entering Tuesday's Class A SoDak 16 match...

McCook Central/Montrose junior Abigail Van Ruler spikes a ball over Dakota Valley's Natalie Steffen (1) and Rachel Wente during a SoDak 16 match on Tuesday at Sioux Falls Roosevelt High School. (Nick Sabato / Republic)
McCook Central/Montrose junior Abigail Van Ruler spikes a ball over Dakota Valley's Natalie Steffen (1) and Rachel Wente during a SoDak 16 match on Tuesday at Sioux Falls Roosevelt High School. (Nick Sabato / Republic)

SIOUX FALLS-Last season, McCook Central/Montrose went to the state tournament in a bit of a happy-to-be-there moment.

With most of its key components back this year, returning to state is an expectation. Entering Tuesday's Class A SoDak 16 match, the No. 2 Fighting Cougars are no longer the hunters, but the hunted and No. 15 Dakota Valley was aiming to chase them down.

MCM came ready to play, however, bolting out of the gates for an easy win in the first set before outlasting the Panthers in the final two to come away with a three-set win, 25-13, 25-21 and 29-27, to advance to the State A volleyball tournament in Sioux Falls.

"Sometimes it's harder to come in as the favorite to win," MCM head coach Tami Bies said. "It's easier to be the underdog, but with this group of girls, they really believe in themselves. They know what they can do and what they can accomplish."

MCM blitzed Dakota Valley at the start of the game, galloping out to a 7-1 lead. After a timeout, the Panthers rallied to trim the lead to one, but the Fighting Cougars push it to 18-11 and then closed the set with a 7-2 run.

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Serves and attacking attempts were on point in the first set, making it clear that MCM came into the night ready for the moment.

"They were definitely ready," Bies said. "They expected Dakota Valley to bring something very powerful, so they were ready to step out there. We started out serving really strong and that's something we've been working on."

The second set saw both teams trade blows, but MCM was struggling to find the same precision it had in the first set. The play teetered back-and-forth until the Panthers took a 19-18 lead in the set, but the Fighting Cougars went on another 7-2 run to put their opponents on the brink of elimination.

The third set was also a slugfest, with both teams grabbing the lead, but MCM took control once again, reaching match-point, but Dakota Valley went from being down 24-22, to up 26-25, but couldn't put it away to spring the upset.

"Part of that comes with experience," Dakota Valley head coach Amy Wiseman said. "I can't take anything away from MCM, they're a very well-balanced program. Even when (Abigail Van Ruler) was in the back row, their other middle was right at the net and they just edged us out tonight."

While MCM has just three seniors on the roster, the experience from last year's run to the state tournament gave the younger players some seasoning. Meanwhile, Dakota Valley lost its top five hitters from last fall's state runner-up squad.

Both coaches commented experience playing a role when the final two sets were hanging in the balance.

"Our experience playing in the state tournament last year was huge for our confidence for our whole season, not just tonight," Bies said.

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Emily Bies had 27 assists, 13 digs and three aces for MCM, while Aleah Ries added 11 kills and six digs and Kenna Kranz had eight kills, nine digs and two aces.

Natalie Steffen led Dakota Valley (19-15) with six kills and nine digs.

McCook Central/Montrose (24-3) advances face No. 7 Aberdeen Roncalli in the quarterfinals of the Class A state tournament on Nov. 15 at 7:45 p.m. at the Denny Sanford Premier Center in Sioux Falls.

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