(#3) Cardinals come back from 2-1 deficit, beat Titans to claim fifth-place State finish
BISMARCK – The (#3) Langdon/Edmore/Munich Cardinals and Dickinson Trinity Titans wanted to leave everything on the floor Saturday afternoon at Bismarck Event Center. Although they were not playing in the championship bout of the 2021 NDHSAA Class B Volleyball State Tournament, they were still battling it out for the fifth-place honor. A match was a match, and both teams wanted to end the season on their terms.
Then again, both teams wanted to send their respective seniors out with one final victory in the box score, too. And so, three Cardinals and four Titans were looking to give it their all on the court one last time.
The context was evident, as was the goal of each team. Now, it simply came down to the match itself.
In what amounted to a down-to-the-wire battle that inevitably went the distance, (#3) Langdon/Edmore/Munich clawed back from a 2-1 deficit to win the set five clincher, net the 3-2 win and secure the fifth-place finish in the tournament on Nov. 20.
The Cardinals concluded the season with a 36-5 record. The Titans, who finished the tournament in sixth place, completed the year with 29 wins (29-9-2).
“All year, we have just been a very focused team and driven team to whatever comes our way,” senior middle hitter Morgan Freije said. “We just faced it as a team and got it done, and I think this game really showed what kind of team we are and how we play together because going in, down 2-1, we weren’t worried at all. We just knew what we had to do as a team and come together, and that is what we did.”
The Dickinson Trinity train started chugging with the front-net presence of sophomore middle hitter Olivia Kessel, who tallied 26 combined kills during the previous two state contests. After the Titans faltered to the Cardinals in set one, 25-17, Kessel, in addition to senior setter Kali Kubas, countered Langdon/Edmore/Munich’s outside and inside tip-ins to provide a steady dose of momentum in their team’s favor.
This momentum quickly translated into 25-22 and 25-15 set two and three wins in Dickinson Trinity’s favor, respectively.
But the Cardinals did not buckle. After the Cardinals went on the defensive, the likes of Freije and Morgan Thielbar gradually found the top of the net to find enough space to place down their patented kills.
When coupled with more awareness at the service line, these kills helped swing the match back in Langdon/Edmore/Munich’s favor. Freije and Thielbar finished the match with 36 combined kills (26 for Freije and 10 for Thielbar).
“We went in with the mindset that we had to be aggressive with our serve,” Langdon/Edmore/Munich head coach Rich Olson said. “They [Dickinson Trinity] are a really good team with a lot of attackers across the front line. They love to run quick-tempo, and we needed to get them out of system, and we weren’t doing that. I said the only way we get back into this and push it into a fifth set is by being aggressive. You are not going to get back into it by being passive or getting the ball in play. I knew we had to be aggressive, and I said it starts right here on the serving line.”
“Obviously, I had a few errors with my serves,” senior outside hitter Morgan Thielbar said. “I missed the first three of them, and I knew I needed to come back to the service line and give it what I had, and that is what I think I did.”
After the Cardinals came away with the 25-14 win in set four, it all came down to set five. One team would head home with one final victory. The other would go home with a heartbreaking defeat.
Although the Titans immediately came out as winners of each of the first two rallies, the Cardinals rebounded to win five of the following seven points. An 8-4 lead in favor of the Cardinals quickly became a 13-10 lead. Then, on the set point, Freije slammed a spike from the outside pocket to deliver the 15-10 knockout to a Titan team that came close to finishing off the Cardinals.
To Freije, it was all about leaving it on the court one final time.
“Right away, it was pretty emotional, but I knew I couldn’t let myself get there too soon,” Freije said. “I just knew I had to leave everything out there, being it is my last high school game, and that is what I did.”
Thielbar also recognized what needed to be done after her team was met with a 2-1 deficit. However, Thielbar wouldn’t have it any other way. Her confidence in her teammates eventually translated to success on the floor, both from an individual and team perspective.
“I knew that it was my senior year, and I wouldn’t want to play with any other girls, so I knew that I had to come out and play like we knew how to play, and we definitely did," Thielbar said.
Olson, who finished his 26th year at the Langdon/Edmore/Munich head coaching helm, knew what needed to be done. However, Olson saw the performance as a prime indicator of his team’s grit, talent and drive.
From the start of the season at the height of the summer to the end of it at the dawn of winter, Olson continued to recognize one particular trait: teamwork.
This teamwork, in Olson’s mind, is what truly defined Langdon/Edmore/Munich volleyball during the 2021 season.
“This team is all about teamwork, and they showed so much character throughout the season, and we had great leadership,” Olson said. “Those three words keep resonating in my mind, and it was a total team effort.”