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Chris Murphy, Published November 07 2013

Five-set thriller sends Fergus Falls to the state volleyball semifinals

ST. PAUL – Fergus Falls middle hitter Anna Monke looked over at teammate Brianna Rasmusson and nodded before the winner-take-all Set 5 against Belle Plaine in the Minnesota Class 2A state volleyball quarterfinal match Thursday at the Xcel Energy Center. Then she burped twice, which apparently is not out of the ordinary.

“It’s one of my many problems,” Monke said with a laugh. “I probably have a condition that is not diagnosed, but I burp a lot. It clears my stomach, so maybe that makes me jump higher.”

Whatever works come playoff time. Monke certainly got up high on a block right before Rasmusson’s tip kill gave Fergus Falls a 26-28, 25-19, 25-14, 19-25, 15-9 win and the Otters’ first-ever state volleyball victory.

“I don’t think there’s a time where Anna doesn’t burp, so we’re used to it,” said Rasmusson, who finished with 15 kills, 23 assists, eight digs and seven blocks. “It was just a roller coaster tonight. I think our fans and our bench gave us a lot of energy. What’s nice about our team is when they take our middles away, our outsides step up and when they take our outsides away, our middles step up.”

Belle Plaine (25-9) was trying to keep the ball away from Rasmusson – a North Dakota State commit – and Monke. In stepped Laura Gaustad, who finished with a team-high 18 kills and 25 digs to go along with three blocks. She didn’t mind the Tigers aiming for her.

“It got other looks open, so it worked,” Gaustad said. “I got my chance, and it just came to me, and it stuck with me the whole game.”

Set 1 went exactly as planned for a matchup between a No. 4 and a No. 5 seed. The set was tied at 1, 2, 13, 14, 24, 25 and 26 before Amara Meyer smashed one of her 11 kills and Mariena Hayden laced one of her match-high 23 kills to close it for Belle Plaine. It was the second set the Otters had lost in the entire playoffs, and they answered with a 25-19 win in which they never trailed after tying the game at 5-5.

Set 3 was all Fergus Falls, as the Otters opened with a 17-4 run and never looked back. Set 4 was the polar opposite of Set 3, as Belle Plaine answered with a 14-5 opening to the set. The Otters took a timeout, which may have been the deciding factor in the match.

“We told the girls that if we do go to a Set 5, let’s get some momentum in Set 4,” Fergus Falls coach Renee Erickson said. “We didn’t want to just lay down and die.”

Fergus Falls didn’t. The Otters went down 23-15, but used a 4-0 run to come within grasp of the match only to see Belle Plaine make it a first-to-15 match.

The Otters never trailed in Set 5, nor was the set ever tied. The Otters did not look like a team making its first trip to state. They were relaxed, loose and laughing at Monke’s possible digestive problem. Her stomach was cleared out when she entered the Fergus Falls locker room and screamed, “We just won at state.”

“I’m so proud of all these girls on the team,” said Monke, who finished with 11 kills and six blocks. “It was so up and down. We knew that’s how it would be. Mentally, we were pretty solid the whole game.”

Fergus Falls plays two-time defending Class 2A champion Marshall in the semifinals at 5 p.m. today at the Xcel Energy Center.

F (kills-blocks-aces): Rasmusson 15-7-0 (23 assists), Boese 0-1-0, Gaustad 18-3-0 (25 digs), Traiser 7-3-0, Monke 11-6-0, Reinertson 0-0-1, Smith 0-0-1, Harworth 0-0-3.

B: Meyer 11-4-0, Nasby 9-0-0, Hayden 23-2-1, Kentges 5-4-0, Lehman 3-3-0 (50 assists), Vinkemeier 7-3-0, Johnson 0-0-4 (20 digs).

Readers can reach Forum reporter Chris Murphy at (701) 241-5548