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Volleyball hits playoff push for many

Wrenshall senior Shana Laveau makes a kill against Fond du Lac Ojibwe during Monday night's Section 7A playoff matchup. Dave Harwig/news@pinejournal.com1 / 4
Fond du Lac Ojibwe junior Tanisha Martineau hits past the defense of Wrenshall senior Tatum Swanson during Monday night's Section 7A playoff match. Dave Harwig/news@pinejournal.com2 / 4
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WRENSHALL—Shana Laveau began her varsity volleyball career at Wrenshall when she was a seventh-grader, and recalls that playing for the Wrens in those days had its struggles.

Over a half-decade later, those struggles have turned to success for the small school as Laveau and Co. now don’t want their careers to come to a close any time soon.

That was evident Monday night when the Section 7A volleyball playoffs got underway with the Wrens’ 25-18, 25-20, 25-8 sweep of visiting Fond du Lac Ojibwe at Wrenshall.

Senior Laveau, a 5-foot-11 middle hitter and Tatum Swanson, another middle hitter at 5-10, have been ultra-effective on the net all season for fifth-seeded Wrenshall (14-10). Nothing much changed Monday, as Swanson smashed 12 kills and Laveau five to back freshman Paige Johnson and senior Delaney Kittel’s 16 and 12 set assists, respectively. Laveau and senior Kaitlyn Kelley also combined for 11 ace serves in the sweep.

“We’ve lost some games, but they’re playing well,” said 15th-year Wrenshall coach Denise North, adding that records don’t matter much this time of year. “You have to play tough. And if everybody comes to play, we can beat anyone in our section.”

Monday’s victory was the second for the Wrens over the Ogichidaag this season, but it wasn’t easy. No. 12 FDL, finishing their season at 6-9 and seeded at the bottom, was pesky early, holding leads of 13-8 and 15-9 in the first and second sets, but faded. The closing frame was never close, as Wrenshall darted to a 7-1 advantage, en route to Wednesday’s second-round playoff game at fourth-seeded Cromwell-Wright (15-7) during press time.

For the Ogichidaag, missed serves late in the match was the story.

“It’s been our sore thumb all season,” said longtime FDL coach Dale Sautbine, now in his 29th season since starting the tribal program in 1983. “But it’s been a great, fun season. We were competitive in every match this year. I’m proud as heck.”

As is North, keyed by her five seniors, all of whom have helped win sets off of No. 1 Cook County, No. 2 South Ridge and No. 3 — and current title holders — Carlton this season.

None of them want to quit playing right now.

“No,” said Kittel outside of the gymnasium, “not yet.”

“We five have been playing together for a while,” added Laveau. “It’ll be sad when it’s over. I will be emotional.”

One can bet emotions will be running high if South Ridge and Carlton collide in Friday night’s quarterfinals at Culver.

The Bulldogs (18-10), keyed by seniors Macy Belich, Hannah Benson, Amanda Groth and Lindsay Ermatinger, are the reigning champs two years running now — and swept the Panthers Oct. 13 — but South Ridge (20-5) isn’t any cupcake. Paced by senior trio Krystal Karppinen, Lindsey Janke and Mallory Thibault, expect this 7A final rematch to be a classic.

“Carlton is a good team — you never wish to play them,” said Panthers coach Brad Olesiak. “But we’ve beaten some good teams, too. It’ll all come down to who is playing better.”

“First of all, we’ve got to get by Wednesday,” added Carlton coach Barb Soukkala of their opening match with Barnum (8-16), which won Monday to advance to the game against Carlton. “It’s one game at a time.”

Tell that to Cook County, which may be feeling the most anxiety, sitting at a perfect 21-0 — 57-11 in sets — and are just one of two unbeaten programs (out of 413 total) across the state.

“I think all the pressure is on them,” said Soukkala.

SECTION 7AA playoff preview

In 7AA meanwhile, Moose Lake-Willow River (16-10) is seeded seventh, Esko (14-11) fourth and Cloquet (19-7) first.

Cloquet rolls with eight seniors, but realize co-No. 1 Hermantown and No. 2 Greenway can win, as well. Lumberjacks coach Heidi Anderson knows nothing is certain.

“The section is balanced,” she said. “We’re looking forward to the competition and playing our best volleyball.”

Esko, winners of six straight, may be playing their best currently, but they’ve been off for 14 days. They hosted three-time reigning champ Mora at press time. If Esko and Cloquet both win, the pair would face off Friday night in Cloquet.

“This section can really go to anybody,” Eskomos coach Desiree DeLeon said. “I hope they’re raring and ready to go.”