For the final time in her prep career earlier this week, Cheyanne Carlson played a match of volleyball in the Wrenshall gym.
But it's the moments the senior made in the tiny venue that will last forever.
Carlson jolted down 11 kills and rifled off 10 ace serves while on her home floor one last time Monday, Oct. 22, as the Wrens whizzed by Northland 25-15, 25-9, 25-10 in a Section 7A first-round contest at Wrenshall.
Carlson is not the only senior wearing orange and black this fall, as she's accompanied with classmates Paige Johnson, Ashley Johnson, Abby Belcastro and Emily Adkins - all of whom Carlson can speak for when recollecting their time playing at the small Polar League school.
"We have such a strong bond because of volleyball," said Carlson, a 6-foot, hard-swinging middle hitter. "We've all been playing so long together that win or lose, we'll have these incredible memories together. And at the end of the day, that's all you can ask for."
Well, a win over Floodwood would be nice, too.
Playing Wednesday, Oct. 26, as the Pine Journal went to press, the fifth-seeded Wrens (14-10) were seeking to avenge the No. 4 Polar Bears (14-10) after their five-set victory over Wrenshall on Oct. 11 in Floodwood.
If their well-balanced attack led them a round further, they would likely engage in a Friday, Oct. 26, quarterfinal with top-seeded Carlton (24-2), winners of 18 straight, and a 3-0 sweep of the Wrens on Sept. 27.
"We're hoping to pull off a miracle," said Carlson, if facing the Bulldogs. "We're going to put our hearts into every game and pray for the best."
Their coach, Amy Thier, in her second season on the sidelines after playing collegiately for Concordia University-Moorhead, knows her team will have to play near-perfect to compete with Carlton, but she knows her experienced squad is determined in their last hoorah.
"With it being their final year, I'm looking forward to seeing their aggressive side and willingness to fight and put it all on the floor," Thier said. "I'm very blessed with these five seniors. Hopefully, their switches are on."
"We love the sport," added Carlson. "And don't want it to end."
Nor does ninth-seeded Barnum apparently, as the Bombers (7-17) rallied back for a wild 6-25, 21-25, 25-18, 27-25, 15-5 victory over host Silver Bay on Monday in their playoff opener to earn a date with Carlton on Wednesday.
Carlton eyes state bid
Speaking of the Bulldogs, the heavy favorites are seeking their fifth state appearance in school history and first since 2014.
Last fall, Carlton came within two points of the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, yet fell to the two-time reigning champs in Cook County. The Bulldogs, with junior quartet Alaina Bennett, Taylor Nelson and twin sisters Brynne and Abby Mickle all back, swept the Vikings on Oct. 16, along with most of the rest of their foes.
"We got so close last year, we just want to finish it this year," said Abby Mickle, a 5-foot-4 outside with a vicious right arm. "We want this bad. It'd be a pretty big dream for us."
"They see those four (volleyball state) banners on the wall and they want to add to that," said Barb Soukkala, coaching the Bulldog program now since 1977. "They've been working at that since seventh and eighth grade."
Mickle and Co. are no strangers to state, however, having qualify in each of the past two seasons in softball. While Abby is the team's shortstop, Brynne pitches, Bennett catches and Nelson - also a Bemidji State women's hockey commit - plays centerfield.
Their options, thus, are seemingly endless.
"A lot of teams have one hitter," Soukkala said. "We've got five or six."
Panthers challenge Cards
While Co-No. 1 North Woods, No. 2 Cherry, No. 3 Ely and No. 4. Deer River are all viable northern contenders in 7A, second-seeded Cromwell-Wright (18-4) is the lone squad of any kind to win a set on the Bulldogs all fall.
That's given the Cardinals plenty of hope to perhaps make their first state volleyball appearance in school history. That, and the fact that Carlton has eliminated them each of the past two seasons.
"That's pretty much our top goal," senior setter Zayde Smith said. "We don't want to lose for a third year in a row. We want to beat them."
With Smith orchestrating the offense, led by junior cousins Taya and Shaily Hakamaki and senior sisters Josie and Jordan Jokinen, it's viable. The Cardinals' defense and scrappiness is also stout.
"With play with no out-of-bounds at practice - every ball is important enough to get a touch," Cromwell-Wright coach Amy Granholm said. "They just have that drive to compete and want to win."
"It's one of the first teams I've had that really wants to go far - they have that eagerness," she continued. "They're games. They turn it on."
Cromwell-Wright wrangled with seventh-seeded South Ridge on Wednesday, as the Panthers (13-11) prevailed over No. 10 Lakeview Christian Academy 25-15, 25-21, 25-16 on Monday in Culver. The Cardinals swept the Panthers on opening day.
"It'll be a very tough match," South Ridge coach Brad Olesiak said. "We need to put up some blocks against the Hakamaki cousins. We don't want to be on defense all night with those two hitting."
Rebels face section title holders Cook County
Moose Lake-Willow River was surely looking to hit it Wednesday when they headed to Grand Marais to try and oust the throne holders of the 7A: Cook County.
The sixth-seeded Rebels (12-12) ousted McGregor 25-9, 25-12, 25-12 on Monday as soft-handed junior setter DonnaMae Smith tossed 20 set assists.
A 3-1 loss to third-seeded Cook County back Sept. 6 wasn't scaring ML-WR either, according to eighth-year coach Beckie Jackson.
"The three-and-a-half hour bus ride has been quite challenging," said Jackson of the trip up the North Shore. "I completely believe we can take it to our section and go far, but it's completely up to these ladies."
Other local teams
Elsewhere in 7A, No. 13 Fond du Lac Ojibwe (1-14) forfeited their first-round playoff bout with Floodwood, coach Courtney Thompson noting it was due to the lack of players.
Section 7A and 7AA quarterfinals are set for Friday, Oct. 26, with semifinals set for Halloween, Oct. 31, and the finals Nov. 3.
In 7AA, neighbors Esko and Cloquet clashed Wednesday during press time as the fourth-seeded Eskomos (15-12) were hosting the No. 5 Lumberjacks (14-12) in a likely well-packed Esko gym.
These two - the winner likely facing top-seeded North Branch (22-4) on Friday - squared off last October in Cloquet, with the Lumberjacks legging our a marathon five-setter with plenty of heart-stopping moments in a wild decisive fifth set.
Esko swept Cloquet on Sept. 25 in Esko.
"We feel we are peaking at the right time," said Esko coach Desiree DeLeon. "We are looking forward to playing Cloquet again. It is always a competitive game with a good atmosphere."
"The 4 versus 5 matchup is usually a good game that can go either way," added Cloquet coach Heidi Anderson. "We've been working hard to prepare ourselves and have made a lot of improvements since we faced them a month ago."