BROOKINGS — There were admittedly some state-tournament jitters for No. 1 O’Gorman during Thursday’s Class AA quarterfinal against No. 8 Harrisburg. After winning two of the first three sets, the Knights found themselves staring down an eight-point deficit in the fourth. “We were definitely playing a little timid,” coach Emily McCourt said. “We looked a little nervous.”
But midway through that fourth frame, OG found its rhythm and began playing with more confidence. The result? An 11-2 run that gave them a 25-24 advantage and a chance to close out the match.
Though Harrisburg ultimately battled back to force a fifth set, the momentum O’Gorman gained during that electrifying run propelled it through the fifth and on its way to a 25-17, 19-25, 25-14, 25-27, 15-12 victory. “It was good to just get some of (those nerves) out. We knew it was going to happen at some point,” McCourt said.
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“It’s the first day of state and we have a lot of fresh faces who’ve never played at a state tournament before, so it’s to be expected,” she continued. “We just wish we would’ve gotten over that hump a little faster.”
Harrisburg’s start to the fourth set was impressive.
After the Knights controlled most of the third, Tigers coach Ronette Costain said she and her staff made some adjustments, moving a few pieces in their rotation and making an effort to aim their shots into the corners and away from the block. “We were trying to play smarter and not so hard because I think we were kind of defeating ourselves,” said Costain, whose team dropped a four-set decision to O’Gorman 12 days ago.
The Tigers were in control, matching every Knights run with one of their own before eventually pushing the score to 22-14. But somewhere in the middle of that fourth set, McCourt said her team started to find its footing. After weathering that lengthy surge, O’Gorman went on a run of its own, scoring nine unanswered points to seize a 24-23 lead.
“That was honestly the most fun we had together all year, that run,” OG sophomore Bergen Reilly said. “It really brought us back together and helped us get momentum back.”
O’Gorman rode the wave of that late-set push into the fifth, racing out to a 7-3 lead after conceding the first two points to Harrisburg. But just as they’d done all afternoon, the Tigers refused to fold, going on a run of their own to take an 8-7 advantage.
“When they rattle off 3 in a row, it sits in your craw,” Costain said. “We took that timeout just to regroup and they did. They came back and figured out some things and some girls set up and played hard.”
The Tigers’ refusal to back down to the nationally ranked Knights was certainly impressive — “I couldn’t say more about these kids. They’re great,” Costain said — but O’Gorman simply would not be denied, outscoring Harrisburg 8-4 to close out the match.
“In the fifth when they started going on runs again, we remembered what we’re capable of,” Reilly said. “We just needed to go out and prove that.”
Reilly tallied a match-high 15 kills, 16 digs and two aces for the Knights. Teammate Isabella Steffel added 12 kills, while Elaina Lubeck added 10. Raegen Reilly tallied 42 assists, 14 digs, three kills and five block assists. Brogan Beck recorded nine kills.
Abby Meister led Harrisburg with 13 kills, 13 digs and an ace, while Reese Jansa chipped in 12 kills and Merdedes Covrig added 35 assists and 11 digs. Devanie Andre recorded a match-high 30 digs; Zoe Rallis had three aces.
Top-seeded O’Gorman will face No. 4 Washington in Friday’s 5 p.m. semifinal.
“We definitely know that we’re a better team than what we just showed,” Bergen Reilly said. “Obviously there’s always going to be jitters at state, but I think we got those out today and we’re ready to start fresh tomorrow.”
Follow Brian Haenchen on Twitter at @Brian_Haenchen.