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Hawks and height best the Spartans

The Superior High School volleyball team had its chances to come away with a win against the Hermantown Hawks Tuesday night in Superior, but in the end, the Hawks won the match 3-0.

The Superior High School volleyball team had its chances to come away with a win against the Hermantown Hawks Tuesday night in Superior, but in the end, the Hawks won the match 3-0.

"They definitely had their hits," SHS coach Lindsay Peterson said of Hermantown. "When our blocking wasn't there, they could do what they wanted."

One reason the Hawks seemed able to do what they wanted was because of their significant height advantage over Superior. Peterson said height was a factor in the game, even though the Spartans were prepared to play a taller team.

"We are used to going up against taller teams," Peterson said. "We did have a lot of intensity coming in with Parents' Night and all of our families and a lot of fans here, but I think it did get to us in the end. You could see it was a little intimidating to play against a team like that."

Superior didn't show any intimidation at the start of the first game, as team captains Sara Strand and Ashlee Olson both started out with ace serves to give the Spartans a 3-1 lead. But the Hawks answered, tying the game at three and then taking their first lead of the game.

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The two teams stayed close and SHS regained the lead, 12-11, halfway through the game. At that point, however, the Spartans stumbled while the Hawks soared. Hermantown took advantage of some communication problems on Superior's side and used a number of powerful spikes to retake the lead and went on to win the game, 25-16.

Hermantown maintained its momentum in the second game, jumping out to a quick 7-4 lead. The Hawks relied on their power hitters and blocking to keep Superior at bay while the Spartans continued to search for their rhythm.

"We're a scrappy team," Peterson said. "Sometimes that goes against us because we depend on other people to pick up those scraps that we throw against them. That's part of the emotional thing too. When we're at that low, we're not talking anymore."

Down 24-12, the Spartans worked hard to keep from losing the game and kept the ball in the air for one of the longest exchanges of the match. The Hawks eventually found a gap in Superior's defense, though, and drove home the spike to win game two, 25-12.

Game three seemed destined to go poorly for the Spartans, as Hermantown took a 2-0 lead to start. But Superior turned the tables on the Hawks and began to pull away for their largest lead of the night. An ace serve from Olson gave the Spartans a 6-2 lead, and when Superior stretched its lead to 8-2, the Hawks called a timeout.

Hermantown regrouped after its timeout and began to cut away at Superior's lead. Within a matter of minutes, the Hawks had come all the way back to tie the game at eight.

"Just keeping that drive is a lot of work, it takes a lot of energy," Peterson said. "I feel like sometimes that's a learned thing, and we just haven't learned it enough. It's keeping that intensity strong all the time and realizing that every ball counts no matter what, every point. We do make mistakes, and we do let that get to us once in a while."

Indeed, the Spartans seemed to let mistakes distract them as the third game wore on. At the midway point, Superior still held a 12-11 lead, but after that the Hawks dominated and pulled away for the 25-13 win.

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"Defensively, it felt like with their setter (Sannie Olson), it was hard for us to know where she was setting the ball," Peterson said. "We weren't quite ready on defense."

Hermantown's Sannie Olson ended the game with 23 set assists, while Cortney Ebel and Kristen Gates provided offensive firepower for the Hawks with 12 and eight kills respectively. Ebel also had 10 digs for Hermantown.

Once the Spartans figured out the Hawks' hitting style, Peterson thought Superior played well defensively. She said the Spartans just needed to move up to counteract Hermantown's short hitting and make other small adjustments. On the offensive side, Peterson saw many things done well by Superior in the match. She said the team recognized it could not hit around Hermantown's block, so it worked on placing its hits and executing smart plays. In addition, Peterson said the team did well when the Spartans moved the play to the back row for their attack.

Ashlee Olson led the team in digs with 12 and also had three ace serves. Strand added 10 digs for Superior and also had 10 set assists. Leading Superior in kills was Amber Callaway with three, and Sarah Ann Johnson had a block.

"Amber has been hitting well, and Sarah Johnson, playing middle, has been stepping it up and doing a nice job," Peterson said. "She's been working hard in practice and you can see a difference in her intensity and her hitting too."

Caitlin Keute and Amanda LeBard also had two hits apiece for the Spartans.

"Caitlin Keute is always a strong player," Peterson said. "I can put her in and she knows her job. She's a strong hitter, she's a strong setter, strong server, strong all-around player."

Peterson said it has been a challenge this season to find each player's niche, but the girls are beginning to find their places. Once the Spartans learn to play through the emotional low points in a match and in a season, Peterson said she is hopeful everything will come together for the team.

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"Putting the future in front of us and putting the past behind us, we talk about that a lot," Peterson said. "It's such an emotional game. You just see the emotional roller coaster for us, the highs and the lows, and sometimes it's really hard to come back."

The Spartans will be in action again Thursday when they host Ashland/Washburn at 6 p.m.

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