SIOUX FALLS — The Miller Rustlers settled for fourth place at the 2022 Class “A” State volleyball tournament Saturday evening, as the Elk Point-Jefferson Huskies got solid play - on both offense and defense - from its front row and took home the 3-1 win in the third-place match at this year’s tournament.
Set scores for the 8th-seeded Huskies were 18-25, 25-21, 25-21 and 25-22.
Miller’s season ends with a record of 34-4 and the first set hinted at the offensive firepower the Rustlers have displayed this season.
Aleah Schlechter, Jaden Werdel and Shaylee Anderberg got the Rustlers off the mark quickly, as each chalked up early kills, including a textbook cross-court to the corner for Werden, which put Miller up 7-2 early.
The Huskies however, began to show the fortitude that led them to a first round upset of top-seeded Wagner as Bentlee Kollbaum and Natalie Heuertz hoisted Elk Point-Jefferson on their shoulders as they stormed back into contention.
In this case, however, although EP-J was able to cut the margin to two points on occasion, the Rustlers got timely kills from Abigail Blake, Tricia Lammers and Ally Mullaney - who went back-to-back - to forge a 22-16 lead.
A pair of hitting errors by Miller gave false hope to the Huskies, but kills from Schlecter and Werdel closed the 25-18 win for the Rustlers.
Miller teammates Tyra Gates (4) and Abigail Blake (12) go up for a block during the third-place match against Elkton Point-Jefferson in the Class A State Volleyball Tournament on Saturday at the Denny Sanford Premier Center in Sioux Falls.
The second set was nip-and-tuck in the early going, with Elk Point-Jefferson controlling an 8-7 score. The wheels began to wobble for Miller, however, as three straight team errors turned the momentum to the Huskies, who then got an ace from Madison Buenger, a kill from Danica Torrez and then a combined block from Torrez and Josie Curry to build a seven-point cushion.
Lammers and Schlecter kept swinging for the Rustlers, who got the lead down to five points on two separate points in the set, before back-to-back kills from Werdel made it 22-18, EP-J, who held on for the 25-21 set two win.
The momentum that the Huskies built in set two bled over into the third set as they raced to a quick 7-1 led on kills from Courtney Brewer and Kollbaum. Miller found their mojo, however, as Black, Tyra Gates and Blake again notched kills to cut the margin to three points, at 11-8. That was as close as Miller would get, as Curry got some timely kills, Brewer notched a kill and a block and Torrez chalked up a kill down the line.
Werdel and Lammers were struggling to build a rhythm with the setter Gates, as once again, the Rustlers’ opponent focused its attack on Gates, nullifying her prodigious setter skills. For the second set in a row, a late Rustler rally fizzled out as a serving error ended the set.
With their backs against the wall, the Rustlers refocused for the fourth set. Mullaney got a pair of kills and Jolie Palmer got her second ace as Miller jumped out 6-3, prompting a quick Huskies’ timeout. The Miller rally continued, however, and a Werdel kill down the line staked the Rustlers to an 11-5 lead.
The error bugaboo that hampered the Rustlers in both of their earlier matches crept back in, as a net call and two hitting errors, sandwiched around a Torrez kill cut the Miller lead to a single point, at 11-10.
A Miller timeout didn’t break the momentum and it wasn’t until Werdel converted a perfect offensive set with a kill that the Rustlers were able to notch a point, which made it 15-12, EP-J as the Huskies ran 10-straight points.
Blake and Werdel kept the Rustlers in the match, getting kills that offset offense from the Huskies and when EP-J made three straight errors, Miller was rejuvenated and tied the set at 21-21. A hitting error by the Rustlers and a big swing from Heuertz made it 23-21, but Blake responded with a huge block in the middle.
However, Torrez got a kill, then stepped back and stroked an ace that handcuffed the Rustler defender and Elk Point-Jefferson began its celebration. The final kill by Torrez gave her a team-high 12 for the match, while Heuertz added 10 and Curry chipped in eight. Setter Sophia Giorgio had 38 assists and libero Alyssa Chytka led both teams with 27 digs.
For the Rustlers, Werdel had a match-high 14 kills and Lammers netted nine. Mullaney was held to a tournament low seven kills. Gates had 36 assists and Palmer led Miller with 25 digs.
Mullaney was named to the Class A All-Tournament team.
A total of seven Rustlers played their final high school match Saturday night, as Coach Linda DeBoer will lose Abigail Blake, Tricia Lammers, Tyra Gates, Mackenzie Kopecky, Ruby Carder, Ally Mullaney and Jaden Werdel to graduation.
Elk Point-Jefferson 18 25 25 25
Miller 25 21 21 22