Esko wins five-set thriller over Blue DevilsAs the Esko volleyball team’s setter, Stephanie Miller doesn’t get many chances to attack a ball on the net. But when she does, she’s not afraid to be aggressive. On Tuesday night, Virginia found that out the hard way.
By: Tyler Korby, Pine Journal
ESKO – As the Esko volleyball team’s setter, Stephanie Miller doesn’t get many chances to attack a ball on the net.
But when she does, she’s not afraid to be aggressive.
On Tuesday night, Virginia found that out the hard way.
In a tense fifth set, it was the 5-foot-7 Miller who approached the net and tapped the ball towards the right side of the Blue Devils’ defense to preserve unbeaten Esko with a thrilling 3-2 (15-25, 25-14, 23-25, 25-18, 15-13) victory over Virginia before a packed Esko gymnasium Tuesday.
“I was waiting for it,” Miller said. “It was the perfect opportunity to do a dump, so I went for it.”
Although Miller’s game-winning point allowed the Eskomos (4-0) to remain undefeated this fall, the girls wearing blue and gold were far from perfect that night.
With the new-look Eskomos still feeling out their squad following last year’s state tournament run, everything from service and hitting errors to net violations and continual
attacks out-of-bounds forced them out of their usual rhythm early on against the Blue Devils.
“We had a lot of unforced errors,” said Esko coach Desiree DeLeon about 25-15 opening set loss.
“It was not pretty,” added 6-foot outside hitter Stephanie Bandelin. “We started pretty slow, but then we picked up our mental toughness.”
That they did. Esko cruised to the second set win and nearly pulled off a comeback in the third set before Virginia senior standout Kristen Predovich smashed home the final point.
And it was after DeLeon took a timeout trailing 18-17 in the fourth that Esko rallied off the final eight consecutive points to win.
In that stretch, Miller, a reserve a year ago, recorded seven straight service points, with only one thing on her mind.
“Just get it over the net,” she said. “Because I knew that if they (Virginia) came back with it, we could put the ball down.”
No more than about 20 minutes later, Miller put it down for the win.
DeLeon, who wiped the sweat from her head at times during the intense contest, said a five-set match like Tuesday’s was a good test for her Eskomos, especially against gutsy Virginia.
“Usually they’re very competitive; they were a solid defensive team,” she said. “But it’s good for the kids to see a game like that and realize they can play in it.”
“I think it’s good, because down the road it’s going to help us,” said the senior, who committed to play volleyball at St. Cloud State University next fall. “They’re (Virginia) a really good team. This is good practice for us.”
Bandelin paced Esko with 12 kills, while Miller tossed 27 set assists. Junior Amanda Belden finished with a team-best four ace serves to go along with her 12 digs and seven kills, while junior Kallyn Knutson led the Eskomos with 18 digs.
Predovich paced Virginia (5-4) with a match-high 18 kills.
“That was fun, that’s what volleyball should be,” DeLeon said of the match’s competitiveness. “I just kept telling our girls that this is their court and that they have to want it more than they do.”
Esko protected its hardwood, though it wasn’t the prettiest.
“With the mistakes that we made, we could have lost,” DeLeon said. “We have to work on some things, but I’m proud of the girls.”
Miller said it was their team’s closeness that kept them in it.
“We’re a real close team, we trust in each other,” Miller added. “In the huddle, even when we were down, we said ‘This isn’t over until the last point is scored.’”
And Miller was there to score it.
Esko travels to Two Harbors Thursday and then to the North Branch Tournament Saturday.