Highland Park High School volleyball coach Sonje Odegard knew it was going to be a challenge facing top-seeded Marshall in the first round of the state Class AAA volleyball tournament on November 10 at Xcel Energy Center.
The Scots, who were making their first trip to state in 44 years, were up against a squad that had more height, quickness and experience. Highland offered some resistance in the first set, losing 14-25, but was outplayed in the next two as the Tigers went on a tear winning 25-4, 25-10.
“Marshall was a team that had played together a lot and we respected that,” Odegard said. “In the first set, we did pretty well. But when it came down to it, we had never played against that level of competition before.’’
The Scots fared better in their 2-3 consolation semifinal loss to Monticello two days later, winning the first game 25-18, but then going 22-25, 15-25, 25-20, 8-15. Much of the game was a tug-of-war with both clubs making runs, but Monticello was able to pull away in the last set.
“It was a great match,” Odegard said. “We said that if we were going to go out, we were going to go out fighting. If we played them 10 times, we’d probably win five. Our players were sad afterward, but they were also proud of themselves.
Odegard said the entire match was a back-and-forth battle. “It just came down to crunch time and we had a few more unforced errors than they did, but that’s volleyball,” she said.
The Magic served well and put up some strong blocks, but didn’t have enough tricks up their sleeves to handle Highland senior outside hitter Kiyomi Callahan, who had 19 kills.
“They just couldn’t stop her,” Odegard said about Callahan. “She can take over in that way.”
“We said that if we were going to go out, we were going to go out fighting. If we played them 10 times, we’d probably win five. Our players were sad afterward, but they were also proud of themselves.”
Junior setter Ayana Bougie-Martinez did her customary good job of quarterbacking the Scots’ offense, registering 32 assists. Highland’s hitters had generally done very well, but Monticello’s overall game gradually took over.
Odegard said the Scots could take away a lot of positives from the state tournament, which was just the school’s fourth-ever appearance. “We told our players to just enjoy the experience,” she said. “Not every team gets to go to state.”
The Scots ended up sharing the Saint Paul City Conference title with Central after splitting their two games with the Minutemen during the regular season. Highland also showed plenty of resolve throughout section play, outlasting DeLaSalle in a grueling final 3-1. The Scots finished with an 18-8-2 overall record.
Odegard hoped the season would give some respect to inner-city volleyball programs, which often take a back seat to suburban and semi-rural teams.
“The best girls in the state are the ones who play year-round for the top clubs,” Odegard said, “but our team is an example of that not always being true. I feel that (city public schools) don’t get the recognition they deserve.”
Odegard said four key players—Bougie-Martinez, Callahan, sophomore libero Alyssa Ramos and junior middle-hitter Bella Kottke—played volleyball in the off-season to hone their skills. Still, she said, that isn’t the only way to become a good player. She mentioned sophomore hitter Kate Reubish, who stays fit by playing hockey and softball in her off-seasons. “She’s just a natural athlete,” she said.
Odegard waxed hopeful about what’s in store for the Scots next fall. “We lose five seniors, but we’ll also have some players returning,” she said. “I’m really optimistic about the talent for next year.”
— Bill Wagner
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