Esko sweeps Hermantown to claim Section 7AA titleLydia Pelletier has been playing volleyball since she was a fifth-grader. Now an Esko senior, she’s having the time of her life. Her Eskomos are going to state.
By: Tyler Korby, Pine Journal
DULUTH – Lydia Pelletier has been playing volleyball since she was a fifth-grader. Now an Esko senior, she’s having the time of her life. Her Eskomos are going to state.
“This is the most incredible feeling ever,” said Pelletier. “We’ve wanted to go to state forever and we finally did it. It feels so awesome.”
Pelletier played a key, up-front role in the emotional, state-clinching victory, as the Eskomos drubbed Hermantown 3-0 (25-16, 25-12, 25-17) in the Section 7AA championship Saturday night at the University of Minnesota Duluth’s Romano Gymnasium.
“Hermantown came out and played a great game, but we knew what we had to do,” said Pelletier, who finished with a match-leading five ace blocks. “We played the best game we’ve ever played.”
Frankly, the Eskomos (28-1) never gave the Hawks (19-10) a chance. Paced by a 12-3 spurt and game-ending ace block by Pelletier to open the match, Esko used eight-straight service points from senior setter Keely Deadrick to take game two and then tallied five of the match’s final six points to earn the historic sweep.
The crowd erupted and an Esko dog-pile ensued after the final point was recorded.
“It’s so amazing I can’t even explain it,” said a smiling Deadrick. “We’ve been fighting for this for so long. We knew this was our last chance to do this. We knew we had to work hard and we did just that. We played our best.”
Esko lost the previous two section titles to Hibbing, yet after dumping the Bluejackets last week in the semifinals and never letting Hermantown lead by more than two points Saturday, the Eskomos are now heading to state for the first time since 2004.
“It feels wonderful,” said Esko coach Desiree DeLeon about finally getting over the proverbial hump. “They were very mentally ready tonight and didn’t want another opportunity to slip away. They played well and I’m excited for them.”
So is Hawks coach Sue
“I told Desi she’s got to go down there and make us proud,” said Wasbotten. “They rose their game to a level beyond what we could do tonight. They have a lot of depth, a good setter and a lot of guns.”
Junior Stephanie Bandelin led the Eskomos with 12 kills. Deadrick fired 47 set assists, as she fed balls not only to Bandelin, but also to Pelletier, senior Alyson Glumac and sophomore Amanda Belden all night long.
“We fought the whole time tonight,” said fourth-year player Deadrick. “I think this is the best group of girls I have ever played with. I’m so excited!”
“It means so much,” said the 6-foot hitter about making it to state, while fighting joyful tears. “We couldn’t have a better group to go to state with.”
The Eskomos earned it. This fall, Esko has won 73 of their 79 games, including 32 of their last 33 on their current 12-match winning streak. They’ve won two tournaments and locked up the conference crown a month ago. Now it’s time for state.
“Not only are we going to state, but we have goals there,” said Pelletier. “We want to do well.”
“Certainly, they’re going to be nervous,” said DeLeon, “but hopefully we can get a handle on that and still play some good volleyball down there, not just get there.”
Unseeded Esko opens up the Class AA state quarterfinals on Thursday at 5 p.m. at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul against fourth-seeded Stewartville (25-5), a team that has made five state trips in the past six years. Semifinals and consolation are Friday, while the finals are set for Saturday.
“We get to miss three days of school,” said Bandelin, who will take the bus down Wednesday. “I’m hoping we can place well, but I don’t really know how it works down there.”
Though they’re all foreigners to state, they’re not scared. Esko wants to make some noise. A lot of it.
“We know that we can beat any team at any time,” said a confident Deadrick. “From this point on, we’re ready for the challenge. We’re ready to go out there and show them what we can do.”