A match one year in the making turned out to be an instant classic.
In 2020, Breckenridge and Henning, Minnesota, posted a combined record of 23-1. Both teams were viewed as shoo-ins for the Section 6A championship game — until the pandemic hit. On Thursday, Sept. 2, Breckenridge left no doubt as to whether or not they deserved to be called champions, coming from behind to defeat the Hornets in five sets at home.
“I felt like this was a playoff game, a section championship game,” Breckenridge Head Coach Margaret Wilson said. “From point one to point 25, from set one to set five, we played and cheered like every point mattered. I’m very proud of how (the girls) handled this and how they came in mentally prepared. That really says a lot about what we can do come playoffs.”
Senior libero Riley Finkral broke her own school record for digs in a match with 49. Finkral was phenomenal in the back row, contorting her body on a number of diving saves to keep the volley, and her team, alive.
“It sure was fun to watch the Cowgirls battle back,” Breckenridge Assistant Coach Alicia Finkral said. “Riley’s dig record was neat, but she was most pleased with the team win.”
That attitude was infectious, as Breckenridge dug deep for contributions throughout the roster. Whether it was Sophie Larson on the serve line or Addie Twidwell adding another scoring dimension at net, the Cowgirls kept coming.
Breckenridge found its rhythm late in the two-and-a-half-hour match, trailing by one set on two occasions, before roaring back to win by scores of 18-25, 25-20, 23-25, 25-13, and 18-16.
Breckenridge looked lost in the opening set, giving away five free points off penalties. Camryn Kaehler scored the most powerful shots, but Henning scored in bunches for a convincing set win. Kaehler was quiet by her standards, but came alive in set No. 4 with Breckenridge trailing 2-1.
“We talked with Camryn about hitting through the block, because she’s strong enough to do that. She reads the block well, where she can see if there’s a hole or not and that’s where her aim is,” Wilson said. “She’s able to execute a lot of her cut shots, too, and we fed her quite a bit more in the fourth set. She’s one of our go-to hitters and she really turned it on in the fourth.”
Breckenridge trailed 20-10 in the first set, before going on an 8-5 run. That momentum carried into set No. 2, as both teams jostled for the lead and the Cowgirls tied Henning at 15-15 after a pair of Larson aces. Lauren Beyer kept a volley alive and deposited the volleyball on the Hornets’ back line for the set point.
“After the first set, I talked a lot about how tight we were playing, making mistakes because we needed to loosen up,” Wilson said. “It just takes one good thing for us to find our spark again. It might be a block, an ace, a big spike or a big dig. It was Sophie coming in and serving well.”
Breckenridge’s blocking stepped up in set No. 3. The Cowgirl crowd erupted after back-to-back blocks gave them the lead at 15-14. Henning buckled down, however, and grinded out a 25-23 set win, pushing Breckenridge to the brink of defeat.
“Slowing the ball with the touch at the net really helped our defense out, then we were able to run our offense,” Wilson said. “Kudos to our blockers. Without them, we would’ve hurt tonight.”
The experienced Cowgirls were game. They responded with a 13-6 start to set No. 4 and led by as many as 10 after an Erickson ace at 21-11. Kaehler had Henning ducking for cover with three late kills to force the deciding fifth set.
Breckenridge raced out to a 4-0 lead in the encore set, highlighted by a full-extension dig by Abby Johnson, leading to a beautiful tip score by Carcie Materi. Johnson also came through with a crushing kill that made the Cowgirl lead 10-8. Seemingly every Breckenridge player played a role in the back-and-forth fifth set.
“They had a really good blocker in the middle. We knew we had to make her move so she didn’t know where we were going,” Wilson said. “We couldn’t just plan on one or two girls. Addie, Lauren, Ana and Tori (Undem) — they all made nice contacts at the net.”
With Breckenridge up 14-13 and needing just one point to win the match, Henning sent a kill over the net that was played by the back row. It ricocheted toward the ceiling, off the basketball hoop for a Hornets’ score. Moments later, Erickson stepped to the line and delivered a serve that was misplayed into the stands as Breckenridge went wild for an 18-16 win.
“Hats off to Henning, they didn’t let us have it when they really could’ve in the last set. That made me a little nervous,” Wilson said. “We had to hit the ball, we couldn’t continue tipping it over the net and letting them hit it. We needed to put them away, get in their head and make them make mistakes. We stayed strong and played to win instead of playing not to lose.”