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Chris Murphy, Published October 14 2013

Moorhead volleyball tops Central Cass 3-1

MOORHEAD – The assists leader in volleyball is not meant for the spotlight. Kills are smashed to the court with authority, but forgotten is the perfectly placed and softly pushed ball of the setter.

Moorhead’s Amber Gunkel is perfectly fine with setting up her teammates, so much so she won’t even joke about it.

“Oh, no, that’s not what I was doing,” Gunkel said with a straight face when asked if she was trying to get some attention of her own with her five aces in Moorhead’s 25-18, 25-19, 23-25, 25-16 win over Central Cass (N.D.) Monday. “I like playing the role of setter. When I set them up and they score, I score too.”

Gunkel dished out 37 assists to go along with 11 digs and five of Moorhead’s season-high 20 aces to celebrate “Senior Night” for the Spuds with a win. It was just Central Cass’ third loss in the 31 matches the Squirrels have played this season. The Spuds (12-10) are picking a good time to be playing some of their best volleyball, winning eight of their last 10.

“Close to playoff time is a good time to be playing well,” Moorhead coach Char Lien said. “We’ve had a lot of games in a row now. Obviously, coming off the St. Michael-Albertville tournament, we got a lot of playing time against some good (Twin Cities) schools. We got some ‘Ws’ down there, and that just added to the confidence.”

Moorhead has 12 wins for the season, eight of which have come in the last 10, but no Spud would admit to playing their best volleyball. They are hoping that is still in front of them.

“We can always get better,” Gunkel said. “We need to keep communicating and fixing the little errors.”

It was hard to find any errors in Olivia Ostlie’s game Monday, as she had a match-high 15 kills to go along with four aces for Moorhead. There was no intimidation factor for the Spuds, facing a team that came into Moorhead’s gym with a record of 28-2.

“It’s a big deal, but it didn’t scare us away,” Ostlie said. “We were as confident as ever.”

Set 1 found Moorhead trailing 15-12, but the Spuds answered with a 10-2 run behind three service aces from Gunkel and two kills from Ostlie en route to a 25-18 win. Moorhead never trailed in Set 2, but found themselves down 20-13 in Set 3. The Spuds used a 9-2 run to tie it up before two of Faith Dooley’s nine kills shut the door for the Squirrels. The Spuds took the momentum of the Set 3 comeback into Set 4, opening the set with a 17-6 run and never looking back.

Gunkel even sets up her hitters with answers to questions.

“Like Amber said, we can always get better,” Ostlie said. “I think we’re having fun. We used to be so serious about it, but now we’re just having fun and we play better when we have fun.”

Central Cass came in Monday having barely known what losing felt like, but it was Moorhead that played with confidence.

“We’re working on not playing with fear,” Central Cass coach Chris Hahn said. “If that fear creeps into things, we don’t play to our potential and we do a lot of tipping. When we’re hitting, we’re a tough team to play against.”

C (kills-blocks-aces): Dooley 9-3-0, Bresnahan 7-0-0 (6 digs), Romsdal 7-5-0, Cramer 3-1-3, Grommesh 2-0-0, Erickson 0-0-2 (31 assists), E. Kramer 0-0-1.

M: Lund 0-0-1, Gunkel 0-0-5 (37 assists), Johnson 1-0-1, Uglem 6-1-5, Tollefson 3-1-1, Carney 5-2-1, Ostlie 15-0-4, Gulseth 1-0-2 (19 digs), LaFlamme 12-1-0, Dalquist 1-0-0.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Chris Murphy at (701) 241-5548