Celebrations for junior middle hitter Danielle Hagler, who picked up her 1500th kill last week at Rolla, and junior outside hitter Gracie Miller, who picked up her 500th dig in Thursday's game, we're spoiled as Grafton would edge out North Star in five sets, 3-2 (23-25, 27-25, 25-19, 22-25, 15-13).
The Bearcats and Spoilers are sitting right next to each other in the latest NDAPSSA poll: on the outside looking in. Both teams are neck and neck, sitting just outside the top 10. Thursday's matchup proved that both teams were hungry for that elite status.
Celebrations for junior Danielle Hagler, who picked up her 1500th kill last week at Rolla, and junior outside hitter Gracie Miller, who picked up her 500th dig in Thursday's game, we're spoiled as Grafton (8-2, 7-1 Region 2) would edge out North Star (5-2, 1-0 Region 4) in five sets, 3-2 (23-25, 27-25, 25-19, 22-25, 15-13). It was an intense game from the start, capped off with dramatics on the court, on the bench, and in the stands.
"Tonight's match was just frustrating," Bearcats head coach Aubree Page said. "We just had somethings happen we're not used to with different aspects I didn't think we'd have to face, like the officiating. They [the officials] hadn't reffed before, and it threw both teams off. However, I think we need to do better on our coverage on the offensive end, and we'll be ok."
A handful of times throughout the game officials had met at the ladder to discuss blown calls, with the result disappointing at least one of the two teams. Players were visibly frustrated, parents were shouting, and both coaches had a handful of discussions at the scoring table with an official. As tension rose, the North Star coaching staff did what they could to keep players cool.
"We were trying to tell our players not to worry about what was going on on the other side when they were having lifts that weren't getting called, net calls that weren't getting called or if the ref was just making bad calls," Page said. "We were trying to put it into their heads to just worry about what we control on our side of the court."
However, when the officiating tensions reached a peak, North Star benefitted from the call disputed call. With the second set going into extra points, a Grafton spike on the right side would be called a tip out of bounds on the Bearcats and pull the Spoilers would tie the set at 26. After convening at the officials ladder, the point would later be given to North Star, saying the ball was not tipped, but shot out of bounds. That point would give the Bearcats the win in set two.
"As coaches on the bench, we had no idea what they had originally called," Page said. "Was it something with the net, what happened? We didn't even know what was going on. I guess it is what it is if it's in our favor, but it's frustrating. I felt for their coach and players too."
While the whistle did blow in favor of and against North Star, the Bearcats fought for five sets and put the Spoilers on their heels. Hagler was a weapon all around as she would rack up 32 kills and 37 digs. Her presence didn't go unnoticed by Grafton as a few of her shots would physically knock the Spoilers off their feet. However, Grafton would put three blockers on Hagler in the fourth and fifth sets, limiting her scoring late in the game. Page said it's something a lot of teams have been doing in close games.
"We've had happen a couple times to Danielle, and we just need to look for the open spots for her and run some more quick sets, so the block doesn't have time to get there," Page said. "We were trying to move the ball to the outside, because they [Grafton] do have a good block, and try to push tips and corners. They started to catch on to that and towards the end we just need to hit the ball. We just weren't in the right position for coverage."
While Grafton was playing heavy defense on Hagler, senior middle back Mackenzie Gleason was doing as much as she could on the right side. She would rack up 19 kills and 10 digs on the night. However, Grafton started to key into her late in the game as her shots would end up blocked or the Spoilers would force her into committing an violation at the net.
Grafton's late-game defensive stand would result in an offensive surge, putting North Stars defensive unit to work. Miller, while setting a career milestone, would finish in second in digs with 33. The blocking presence of the North Star's would fail to launch as the team would only amount three throughout the game.
The Bearcats played toe-to-toe with the Spoilers, but Page said Thursday's game was an adjustment of pace from who they we're playing prior. North Star's last two games have been sweeps, over Park River and Rolla, where they have outscored its opponents, 153-95. The last four plus set match the Bearcats played was against Our Redeemers, where North Star won in five.
"We were doing so well in the beginning playing some of those top teams and then we started playing some of those teams who are not as great, and we started to play down to our comepetition," Page said. "It's frustrating. We said we were not going to do that and then we do it. We just have to play our own game, keep pushing and have fun with it."
It's a loss the hurts for the Bearcats, but Page said the team learned a lesson about their ability to get out a hole. North Star almost went down 2-0 in set two before they would surge back to win in extra points. What comes with that lesson is the ability to dig a little deeper according to Page.
"We just need to be digging deeper," Page said. "We need to get to those balls that are closer to the line. Some of those balls were right next to the line, but we were there too. We were indecisive."
Contact Jack Williams with any comments at JGWilliams1@gannett.com or on Twitter @jackgwilliams.