Bulldogs steamroll Cook County in quarterfinals
Watching Macy Belich play volleyball, it's clear the Carlton sophomore can pound the ball down the sideline.
Yet, it's her mental strength that makes the fast-swinging outside hitter most deadly at the net.
The Bulldogs netted a 25-18, 25-11, 25-13 victory over Cook County in a Section 7A volleyball quarterfinal last Friday in Virginia, where Belich had a team-best 13 kills.
Belich, a 5-foot-8 volleyball veteran, is best with her lethal left-side attack, but the teenager -- who's been on the varsity since she was in seventh grade -- has really grown mentally.
Perhaps that was best seen last season, when the Bulldogs were swept by North Woods in the Section 7A championship, one step from State.
"Last year was hard," Belich said. "We keep our minds on that match, because we all know we don't want to redo it."
That's highly unlikely, as top-seeded Carlton (24-5) is one of the area's finest teams entering Wednesday night's Section 7A semifinal with second-seeded Chisholm (21-7) in Deer River as the Pine Journal went to press.
Although a loss ends their season, a win pits the Bulldogs with either co-No. 1 Northeast Range (18-5) or No. 3 McGregor (19-7) in Saturday's 6 p.m. finale at Deer River.
McGregor showed mental toughness was vital in their 15-25, 15-25, 25-20, 25-23, 20-18 marathon upset over second-seeded South Ridge last week in a quarterfinal at Hibbing.
"It could have gone either way," said South Ridge junior middle hitter Justice Janke, who finished with 20 kills, 23 digs and six ace serves in defeat. "I thought we'd go farther, but it just wasn't there, I guess. It was a tough one; very difficult."
"We had our chances," added Panthers Coach Brad Olesiak, whose team totaled an 18-9 record, "but it stung."
Despite Carlton's stinging of Cook County, Bulldogs Coach Barb Soukkala, in her 36th season, remained honest.
"We could have played better and have to continue to pick it up," said Soukkala. "It's still wide open. Right now, you have to come and play. If you don't, you'll be going home."
Carlton had a perfect record at home this season, but junior Jessica Stanslaski -- who had nine kills last week to back 22 set assists from Hannah Benson and Briana Walton -- knows their ultimate goal won't be played in town.
"It'd be a dream come true to go to State," said Stanslaski. Carlton has not qualified for State since 2003 and 2004. "I think our experience last year will help us not get rattled."
"We have what it takes to go all the way," added Benson.
"It's tough, though," Soukkala said, "a lot of it is mental."