Eskomos volleyball aiming for repeat trip to stateAn accounting of the Esko volleyball team's travels through the playoffs, including an update on the result of Wednesday's match against Hibbing at the end of the story.
By: Jeff Papas, Pine Journal
As this edition of the Pine Journal went to press Wednesday night, the Esko volleyball team hoped to knock Hibbing out of the section playoffs for the second straight year.
Last year the Eskomos defeated the Bluejackets in three straight games and this year the teams clashed in the Section 7AA semifinals in Grand Rapids.
“Hibbing has a very deep tradition and their coach (Gail Nucech) has been there for a long time,” Esko Coach Desiree DeLeon said. “Hopefully we’ll come out and play to the best of our ability.”
The Eskomos (24-4) haven’t lost a non-tournament match in nearly a month and of their four losses, only one was to a small school. The other setbacks were to Roseville Area and Duluth East in tournaments and to the Greyhounds again in four games three days after they met in the East tournament back on Oct. 4 – Esko’s last loss.
“I was very happy to play Roseville and East,” DeLeon said. “I feel the outcomes could have been different in those matches, but hopefully we’ll have more of those matches during the regular season in the future. They prepare us to be better at this point in the season.”
Esko was the south subsection’s top seed and advanced with 3-0 wins over eighth-seeded Hinckley-Finlayson and fourth-seeded Crosby-Ironton to reach the semifinals.
On Oct. 26, Esko dismissed the Jaguars 25-9, 25-8 and 25-15, while things were a bit harder against the Rails two nights
later. Esko won that match 25-13, 25-9 and 26-24.
“We lost some intensity in the last game against Proctor, and to an extent against Hinckley as well,” DeLeon said. “If we are going to succeed in the playoffs we have to keep our edge.”
“I actually don’t think we are playing as well as we can,” DeLeon added. “That’s good in a way. Now it’s time to see our best game and hopefully we will come out and play to the best of our ability.”
Esko graduated six players from last year’s state tournament team but retained six seniors led by setter Stephanie Miller and middle hitter Stephanie Bandelin, who will play for St. Cloud State next season.
“Stephanie Bandelin is a force in the front row,” DeLeon said. “She leads a well-rounded crew there. Stephanie Miller is in her first year as our setter but she has played very well. Everything runs through her and the players have to trust her to give good passes.”
DeLeon counts experience as the team’s key asset.
“We rotated 10 and 11 players last year so even though we graduated six, we brought back experience,” she said. “We have good service receivers and the offense has been good as well.”
DeLeon also noted that her team meshes well together.
“They are a great bunch of girls,” she said. “Overall, they are good students and athletes and it’s fun to be with them. Sometimes as a coach I want to yell a bit with them but they’re such good kids you know they’re trying hard.”
Now, though, there’s no margin for error and DeLeon feels that if her players stay focused, they have a great chance to beat the Bluejackets.
“Playing Hibbing will help with the intensity,” she said. “We know we can’t have lapses like that when you are playing a decent team. You know you have to be intense and now you need to do it. I feel that if we stay intense and play consistently, we will come out with the win.”
Update: Esko wins thriller against Hibbing
Esko survived a five-set thriller to beat perennial power Hibbing 25-23, 25-21, 26-28, 23-25, 15-13 in the Section 7AA high school volleyball semifinals Wednesday night in Grand Rapids.
Esko (25-4), which trailed 13-8 in the fifth game before rallying, advances to play Mora at 7 p.m. Saturday at Duluth Denfeld for the championship.
Courtney Wirtanen had 31 set assists and six kills and Ebony Gray had 16 kills and eight blocks to lead Hibbing (13-15).