The Highland Park High School volleyball team may not be the tallest on the court, but that didn’t stop the Scots from stepping up bigtime at home on November 4 to defeat DeLaSalle 3-1 in the Section 3AAA final and earn their first trip to state since winning the AA title in 1977.

The Scots (18-6-2) will face top-seeded Marshall (30-2-0) in the opening round of state at 5 p.m. Wednesday, November 10, at Xcel Energy Center. Highland coach Sonje Odegard couldn’t have been happier for her squad, which is making the school’s fourth-ever state tournament appearance.

“We knew from the beginning of the season that we had a real shot (at getting to state),” she said. “We’re not a big team, but we play a smart game. We work very hard on defense. When we play bigger teams, we just have to keep getting digs.”

For sure, it’s hard to string together a cohesive offense against this Scots team. In the section final, Highland took the first two sets by scores of 25-20, bowed to the Islanders 21-25 in the third, but sealed the match with a 28-26 victory in the fourth. Odegard said her team turned up the heat in that final set.

Highland volleyball
Highland’s Ayana Bougie-Martinez and Bella Kottke go for the block in the Section 3AAA title game on November 4. Photo by Brad Stauffer

“We were in control in the first two sets,” she said. “They came back and put pressure on us, but then we were able to figure out when it was ‘go’ time. That last set was a battle, but we served really well and were aggressive.”

Key in that DeLaSalle victory was sophomore right-side hitter Kate Reubish, who had five serving aces in the final set.

Highland ended up sharing the Saint Paul City Conference title with Central after splitting their two games with the Minutemen during the regular season. Odegard said lessons were learned from an October 20 loss to Central that would have given the Scots the title outright.

“It was disappointing,” she said, “but we felt that we’d show we were a better team after that.”

“We knew from the beginning of the season that we had a real shot (at getting to state),” said coach Sonje Odegard. “We’re not a big team, but we play a smart game. We work very hard on defense. When we play bigger teams, we just have to keep getting digs.”

Highland followed that defeat with consecutive 3-0 victories against South Saint Paul and Simley in the first two rounds of the section playoffs.

Leading the way for the Scots this season has been senior outside hitter Kiyomi Callahan, who uses her 5-foot-8 frame to its utmost. Callahan was leading the team in passing and hitting percentages, and had 14 kills against DeLaSalle.

According to Odegard, Callahan leads the team in “just about every stat,” and deserves consideration for all-state honors this fall. “She’s proven herself,” she said.

Senior middle hitter Azeria Stagg is also 5-foot-8, but also plays a heady game at her position. Junior middle-hitter Bella Kottke is the Scots’ tallest player at 6 feet. She has good quickness and gets her share of blocks. Junior setter Ayana Bougie-Martinez is just 5-foot-5, but is still very good at the net. She leads the team in assists and had the game-winning block in the second set versus DeLaSalle.

Sophomore libero Alyssa Ramos is very consistent and gets the ball where it needs to be. The coach likes the way Ramos passes the ball and takes control of the back row. “She’s made some amazing saves,” Odegard said.

Senior outside hitter Delaney Sis comes off the bench frequently and the coach likes her ability to come back from adversity if it strikes. “I’d say the best way to describe (Sis) is that she’s determined,” Odgard said.

She added that the team has been a pleasure to watch as the season has unfolded.

“Absolutely, we’re improving,” Odegard said heading into the state tournament. “I think that we’re peaking at the right time.”

— Bill Wagner

COMMENTS TERMS OF SERVICE

The Villager welcomes comments from readers. Please include your full name and the neighborhood in which you live. Be respectful of others and stay on topic. We reserve the right to remove any comment we deem to be profane, rude, insulting or hateful. Comments will be reviewed before being published.