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Laker volleyball arises after slow start to advance to section quarterfinals

Laker volleyball players Sierra Braukmann (6) and Alyssa Austin (16) get the block on a St. Cloud Apollo hitter during Wednesday night's Section 8-3A play-in game. The Lakers won 3-1. BRIAN WIERIMA/DETROIT LAKES NEWSPAPERS1 / 3
Laker senior Trisa Hutchinson gets a successful serve receive and pass during Wednesday's playoff game against St. Cloud Apollo. BRIAN WIERIMA/DETROIT LAKES NEWSPAPERS2 / 3
The Laker trio of Sierra Braukmann (6), Alyssa Austin (16) and Julia Taylor (9) celebrate the final point of DL's 3-1 win over St. Cloud Apollo Wednesday night inside Ralph Anderson Gym. 3 / 3

It may have taken the first set for the Detroit Lakes volleyball team to focus on the task at hand, but when they did, the path to the Section 8-3A quarterfinals became a lot smoother.

The No. 12 seeded St. Cloud Apollo Eagles (3-12) outlasted the Lakers in the first game 25-19, which featured seven different lead changes, but unfortunately for the visitors, it was the jolt which jarred the DL team awake.

The Lakers (12-12) proceeded to stir awake and win the final three sets by the scores of 25-19, 25-19 and 25-18 for the 3-1 playoff victory.

“It was nerves, we just were not there mentally in the first game,” said junior Shay Nielsen, who had a game-high 16 kills. “With the home court advantage, we knew we had a better chance to win and that gave us a higher confidence level.”

That confidence bred aggressiveness at the net for the Lakers, with the trio wall of Nielsen, senior Trisa Hutchinson and sophomore Alyssa Austin making life hard on the Eagles’ hitters.

Throughout games two through four, the Lakers were getting hands on would-be Eagle kills, which in turn, forced St. Cloud Apollo hitters to redirect their hits.

“Alyssa came around and started to get her blocking going,” said DL head coach Jim Wood. “But the seniors really led the way. Sierra Braukmann delivered those passes (39 assists) to Shay and (junior) Sophie Wood brought her game back in the passing.”

In the second set, the Lakers reeled off four-straight points to help build a commanding 15-9 lead, even though the Eagles made a stab by cutting it to one point at 18-17, mostly behind the hitting of junior outside hitter Josie Thelen.

But DL didn’t relinquish their lead, as Austin came up with a pounding kill, along with a couple of SCA unforced errors, led to a 20-17 advantage.

Nielsen, senior Jenna Field and Hutchinson banded for a trio of kills, as DL pulled away for the 25-19 win.

“After the first game loss, we just looked at each other and said we have to trust each other,” Nielsen said of the spark which lit the rally. “We came out and relied on the girl next to each other and that made it 10 times easier.”

The third set was a slow start by the Lakers, as they fell down 11-8, but back-to-back blocks for points by Nielsen, Austin and a solo by senior Julia Taylor, pumped in the much-needed momentum.

From there, Nielsen went on a kill tear to help build a 20-14 advantage, as DL cruised to a 25-19 lead and a 2-1 match advantage.

“The girls really cleaned it up after the first game and we knew we had to be aggressive on the attack and not give up any through balls,” Wood added. “The girls were not making errors on their aggressive attacks.”

The Lakers fell down by one or two points in the earlier part of game four, but it was only a matter of time before the Lakers picked up the lead and went from there.

That occurred on a Field kill to tie the game 10-10, with a Braukmann serving series picking up the lead at 12-10, thanks in part to one of Austin’s four solo blocks.

The lead continued to stretch, with a variety of kills by Nielsen, junior Frankie Hutchinson and yet another block by the duo of Austin and Taylor to bolster the lead to 20-14.

That was enough to suck the remaining hope out of the Eagles, as the Lakers clinched it 25-18.

Trisa Hutchinson finished with nine kills, while Taylor had eight. Nielsen led the way in digs with 16, with Wood adding 14.

The Lakers will now be on the road, where they will face No. 4 Monticello (16-11-3) Friday at 7 p.m.

The Magic have a pair of potent hitters with over 300-plus kills apiece, with senior Jamie Maus posting the most kills in the state with 468 and sophomore teammate Sara Macek in the top 10 with 342.  

In the other play-in game, No. 8 St. Cloud Tech topped No. 9 Becker 3-0 and will face No. 1 Alexandria.

In the upper bracket, No. 11 Sartell beat No. 6 Sauk Rapids-Rice 3-0 and will play No. 3 Bemidji, while No. 7 Big Lake defeated No. 10 Brainerd 3-1 and will travel to No. 2 Moorhead.

The semifinals will be Tuesday, while the finals Friday, with locations to be determined.     

Section 8-3A play-in: (12) St. Cloud Apollo at (5) Detroit Lakes, Wednesday, Oct. 23

Lakers 3, Eagles 1

(19-25, 25-19, 25-19, 25-18)

DL stats – Kills: Shay Nielsen 16, Trisa Hutchinson 9, Julia Taylor 8, Jenna Field 6, Alyssa Austin 5…Blocks: Austin 4, Sierra Braukmann 2, Hutchinson 2, Taylor 1, Nielsen 1…Aces: Nielsen 4, Field 1, Sophie Wood 1…Assists: Braukmann 39, Taylor 1…Digs: Nielsen 16, Wood 14, Field 9, Hanna Gedrose 4, Braukmann 3, Alex Engkjer 2, Hutchinson 2

Brian Wierima
Detroit Lakes Newspapers Sports Editor for the last 15 years. St. Cloud State University graduate, who hails from Deer Creek, MN.