EYE OF THE TIGER: Delano comes through in clutch spots to reach state title game

ST. PAUL – The hardest point to score is the final one. The Delano volleyball team knows all about that as they’ve been locked in tight battles throughout the postseason.

Needing just one more point to secure their spot in the Class AAA state title game, the Tigers were given a run for their money down the stretch but managed to close things out in a 3-0 (25-22, 27-25, 25-16) sweep to reach the Class AAA state title match Friday.

“I’m really proud of this bunch,” Delano coach Becca Rue said. “Byron is a really solid and tough team. To win in three is a huge accomplishment.”

Delano was in control of things after winning the first two sets in thrilling fashion. Despite being in command, the Tigers knew it wasn’t over heading into the third set.

“Everyone here is well deserving of being here,” Rue said. “These teams are really good and we know that. We knew we had to stay focused and come out knowing this wasn’t going to be easy.”

It looked as if Delano was going to run away with things leading 24-8. That wasn’t the case. Byron rattled off eight in a row to get back into it but finally Taylor Tool delivered the kill and finishing touch to complete the sweep, the 27th sweep of the season by Delano.

“We’ve always been a team that believes in ourselves and knows that no matter what the outcome is, we know we tried our best,” Kate Halvorson said. “No matter what the outcome of this game was, we would have been proud of each other.”

The sweep wouldn’t have been possible without a team effort in the first two sets. Down 17-13 in the opening set, Delano rallied back thanks to big kills from Sydney Pink down the stretch.

“Our setters did an amazing job of moving things around,” Kaelyn Wittwer said. “Sydney did a really good job of finding that open space and using the block. It really helped us get through the first two sets.”

With Pink rolling early, that opened things up for everyone else in set two. Down 24-22, a kill from Kayla Heinonen followed by an ace by Lexi Champeau evened things up at 24. Bryon retook the lead at 25-24 but Delano would rattle off three-straight thanks to a kill from Lucy Fobbe followed by an ace and a kill from Pink to put Delano up 2-0.

“We really focus on not looking at the scoreboard,” Rue said. “I always tell them not to worry about the scoreboard and to play Delano volleyball. When they keep themselves composed and they don’t get the mindset of pressure, we play so much better.”

“We were reading the ball so well,” Champeau said about the rally. “They didn’t really know where we were going to go next. Everyone was playing so well.”

Playing smart was a big key for the Tigers in the win, especially in the first two sets. For the match, Delano had just one service error as a team while Byron racked up seven in the first two sets alone giving the Tigers free points in big spots.

“I feel like we still serve aggressively but consistently and smart,” Rue said. “We have that philosophy of knowing we will defend. Today our block was huge. That was a huge factor in our success. When we have a solid block the rest of our defenders know exactly where to go. I’m not sure on the number of blocks we had today but it was big. It just kind of takes them out of their system. These girls did amazing.”

The win for Delano not only sends them to the Class AAA title game but it’s also their third win against a Top 10 team this postseason alone. If the Tigers want to finish things off, they’ll need to do it once more as No. 1 Marshall awaits them in the championship match.

“We do have the mindset of knowing we can play with anyone in the state,” Wittwer said. “We just go into it with confidence and play our game.”

“We’re just going to try and play our best volleyball,” Rue added. “If we play our best, great things can happen.”

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