SIOUX FALLS — The Miller Rustlers saw their dreams of a state title melt away Friday night, as the Elkton-Lake Benton Lady Elks used a powerful defensive front and timely hitting to defeat the Rustlers 3-0, with set scores of 25-22, 25-9 and 25-21.
Miller, now 33-4, will face Elk Point-Jefferson for third place this afternoon at the Denny Sanford PREMIER Center, while Elkton-Lake Benton, which improves to 33-3, will seek to derail Sioux Falls Christian’s in SFC’s quest for a sixth straight Class “A” State volleyball crown.
After going five sets in its opening round win over Platte/Geddes, Miller came out and promptly fell behind 6-0 as Rachael Krog and Kailyn Drietz had the Lady Elks flying out of the starting blocks. Following a Linda DeBoer timeout for Miller, the second seeded Rustlers began to click on offense.
Ally Mullaney got Miller on the board with a strong swing, Ruby Carder stroked an ace and Jaden Werdel chalked up a kill. Before the dust settled, Miller owned a 9-6 lead, after running nine straight points on the Lady Elks, capped by kills from Mullaney and Werdel.
From that point on in the first set, it was a back-and-forth tug of war as neither team was able to carve out more than a four-point advantage, as Miller hitting error gave E-LB a 20-17 lead. The Rustlers got it down to two points, on two different occasions in the late going, but Drietz closed the deal with a right-side kill down the line for the 25-22 win.
Very little went right for the Rustlers in the second set, as literally every kill attempt by Elkton-Lake Benton found the floor and Miller found it nearly impossible to string together two points. A 2-2 tie early saw Drietz ignite a 10-0 run for the Lady Elks, highlighted by kills from Krog, Aubree Bales and Kylie Ramlo. Werdel got back-to-back kills to temporarily slow E-LB, but the lead hovered at 10 most of the remainder of the set and the Lady Elks made it 2-0 on the strength of a 25-9 smackdown.
Throughout the first two sets, Elkton-Lake Benton’s strategy of serving and hitting to Miller’s setter Tyra Gates paid off, as the Rustlers often found themselves out of system and lobbing free balls to the Lady Elks. A minor lineup change by Coach DeBoer for the third set paid dividends, as the Rustler setter was freed up and able to find her big swingers - Mullaney, Abigail Blake and Tricia Lammers - as Miller built a 12-10 lead midway through the set.
The lead swelled to three points, at 15-12 as Lammers found a seam in the Lady Elks defense, but a block by Drietz ignited another E-LB rally, this time a 5-1 run, and suddenly Miller found itself trailing 17-16.
Out of a Miller timeout, the Lady Elks earned a point on a long rally, as Bales scored a kill. A Rustler error and back-to-back big swings from Ramlo pushed the lead to four for E-LB, and despite two late kills by Mullaney, the die was cast, as Krog knocked home the final two points of the match, for the 25-21 win and a ticket to tonight’s title tilt.
The win marks a huge step for the Elkton-Lake Benton program, which finished fifth at last year’s “A,” the first trip by the unique South Dakota/Minnesota coop to the state tournament.
For Miller, the Rustlers came up one victory short of a bid to return to the title match, but will seek to secure the third-place trophy this afternoon against Elk Point-Jefferson.
Elkton-Lake Benton 25 25 25
Miller 22 9 21