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Prep volleyball: Rebels outlast Bulldogs in five-set thriller

Moose Lake/Willow River recorded back-to-back victories in sets four and five to defeat Carlton 3-2.

Hitter goes up for a kill
Carlton senior Madison Asleson goes up for a kill as senior Morgan Wigg of Moose Lake/Willow River tries to block it during a Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022 match at Carlton High School.
Amy Arntson / Cloquet Pine Journal
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CARLTON — With their backs against the wall facing a 2-1 deficit in the match, Moose Lake/Willow River rallied to win the fourth set and the decisive fifth in a come-from-behind 3-2 (29-27, 21-25, 19-25, 25-18, 15-13) road victory over Carlton on Tuesday, Oct. 4.

Rebels coach Caitlin Miller lauded the team for its perseverance after bouncing back from a tough match vs. Aitkin the night before.

“They really showed mental toughness,” Miller said. “We played in Aitkin last night, had a rough time, and they were clearly ready to come back and play a tougher game mentally and physically. So I was really proud of them for that tonight.”

Despite the final outcome of the match, Carlton coach Barb Soukkala applauded her club for their gutty effort.

“I thought we played really well. We played better than we have all season.” Soukkala said. “It’s probably one of our best efforts.”

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Hitter goes up for kill
Carlton junior Megan Matarelli follows through on a kill during a Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022, match against Moose Lake/Willow River at Carlton High School.
Amy Arntson / Cloquet Pine Journal

The opening set provided a preview of what was to come in the back-and-forth match, as the two teams required extra points to decide a winner.

The Rebels opened up a 21-14 lead late in the game before the Bulldogs stormed back with timely kills from Madison Asleson and Megan Matarelli. Carlton maintained the momentum down the stretch — taking its only lead to that point at 26-25 after a Sam Gillund block.

The comeback ultimately fell short in the end, as Laura Stephenson used a soft-touch kill to clinch the 29-27 win for MLWR.

Hitter tries for kill
Moose Lake/Willow River junior India Johnson goes airborne for a kill attempt during a match against Carlton, Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022, at Carlton High School.
Amy Arntson / Cloquet Pine Journal

Sets two and three saw the script get flipped as the Rebels were forced to play catch-up with hitters Gillund and Eliza DeCaigny catching fire for the Bulldogs on the other side of the net. MLWR clawed its way back into contention late, but ultimately fell short in 25-21 and 25-19 finals, respectively.

The resiliency and composure shown by her club after the tightly-contested opening set loss drew Soukkala's praise.

“These kids haven’t had a lot of these types of games, so it was nice to see them really keep fighting for every point and not get too rattled after we lost that first game,” Soukkala said.

Equal to the task, the Rebels showed their tenacity by taking the fourth set 25-18 behind strong showings from Morgan Wigg, Alexis Hoffman and Sarah Christy to force a fifth and deciding set.

Libero digs the ball
Moose Lake/Willow River junior Jorja Jusczak digs the ball during a match against Carlton, Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022, at Carlton High School.
Amy Arntson / Cloquet Pine Journal

With the match up for grabs, the two teams exchanged leads twice before MLWR seized it for the third and final time at 4-3 and never looked back in a 15-13 final.

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Miller credited the team's defense, led by Jorja Jusczak with 35 digs; along with Christy for providing some momentum-shifting kills down the stretch of the match that loomed large in the final outcome.

Hitter goes up for a block
Moose Lake/Willow River senior Sarah Christy goes up for a block during a match against Carlton, Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022, at Carlton High School.
Amy Arntson / Cloquet Pine Journal

“We knew Carlton would be really tough and we had to come out strong and play our best,” Miller said. “We really relied on right side hitter Sarah Christy coming through with some big plays and a ton of kills. Defensively we played great (as well). We were on the floor all the time."

The Bulldogs (6-11) will travel to Barnum, Thursday, Oct. 6, for their next matchup against the Bombers at 7 p.m. Moose Lake-Willow River (9-11) will host McGregor, Thursday, for a 7 p.m. match.

MLWR def. Carlton (29-27, 21-25, 19-25, 25-18, 15-13) -- M: Hannah Roach 6AS, 6K, 16D; Sarah Christy 8K, 8D; India Johnson 4K, 13D; Morgan Wigg 8K, 4D; Alexis Hoffman 3AS, 11K 3D; Laura Stephenson 1AS, 1K, 38SA, 4D; Jorja Jusczak 35D.

Jake Przytarski is a reporter for the Cloquet Pine Journal covering a mix of news and sports.
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