FERGUS FALLS, Minn. — “Never settle,” that was Breckenridge’s motto all season long. That fighting spirit lifted the Cowgirls to their first Minnesota State Volleyball Tournament berth in over 40 years, with a 3-2 triumph over Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa Saturday, Nov. 6 in the Section 6A Championship.
“This comes from determination. Victoria Undem, Addie Twidwell, Lauren Beyer, Ana Erickson … determined,” Breckenridge Head Coach Margaret Wilson said. “Every single player is an asset. We don’t have only one or two who stick out, we have nine or 10 girls that do their job. We’re a good defensive team, we’re a good offensive team, we’re an all-around solid team, not a one-man show.”
Saturday’s match at Fergus Falls High School felt like 1980 all over again, as Breckenridge and BBE traded colossal kills and hustle plays during an all-time great playoff performance. It was the second five-set victory for Breckenridge in a three-day span, as Wilson’s deep lineup kept blocking the Jaguar attacks like a brick wall.
Carcie Materi and Sophie Larson combined for 35 set assists. Breckenridge recorded 17 blocks, led by nine block assists from Erickson and eight from Twidwell. Undem stepped up with two solo blocks.
“Our setters overcame, our blockers came to play. Our blockers were phenomenal, we have never blocked that well all season,” Wilson said.
Erickson stepped to the serve line with Breckenridge leading 17-16 in the deciding fifth set. The senior delivered a laser and the volleyball nosedived as it reached the front row, barely clearing the net and finding the floor for the game-winning ace. Erickson was already warmed up at that point, having started the set with a trio of blocks.
“For somebody that everybody in the crowd thinks shouldn’t be serving, she aced it. She did that against Barnesville and she did it again tonight. Her three blocks, that’s huge to start that last set,” Wilson said.
Senior outside hitter Camryn Kaehler has been a catalyst for the Cowgirls her entire career. Saturday was no different, as Kaehler twice painted the line with kills in the final set, holding nothing back on powerful swings that gave the Jaguars no time to react.
As exciting as the late moments were, the opening set was anticlimactic. Violations were whistled almost every other volley, including a set-ending double hit by the Cowgirls that handed BBE a 25-23 win.
“We overcame tonight. That first set, the refs, the BBE hitters, they put it up against us and we overcame,” Wilson said.
Breckenridge took control in set two, only to watch the Jaguars claw their way back to an 18-18 tie. Undem’s well-placed attacks kept the Cowgirls afloat and Beyer came up with a big kill through the block. Abby Johnson capped it off with a pair of kills and Breckenridge survived 25-23.
Johnson topped the Cowgirls in kills with 19, Kaehler joined her in double figures with 14 and Undem added five to keep BBE playing on its heels.
Neither the Breckenridge coaching staff or the players seemed to break a sweat, remaining poised throughout the peaks and valleys of the championship match.
“Our team has high chemistry. We all work well together and push each other to do our best, both in practices and games,” Kaehler said. “We never give up on each other or get frustrated with each other. We play as a family.”
The Cowgirls shifted into another gear in set three. Even senior libero Riley Finkral recorded a kill, bouncing the ball off the net as her teammates bowed in celebration. The Jaguars pushed back, cutting a 24-15 deficit to just two points. Johnson wisely ducked under a deep serve with the lead slipping away, helping Breckenridge escape with a 25-22 victory.
Despite a great defensive effort at the net by Undem, set four favored BBE. Breckenridge had two razor-close kills ruled out by the line judge and never recovered, losing 25-19.
After Erickson’s block party to start the winner-take-all fifth set, Breckenridge fell behind 8-6. Kaehler was set up with a gimme at the net by BBE and sent it straight to the floor to put Breckenridge back on top 9-8. Two more kills from the senior leader pushed the lead to 14-11, but an errant dig into the Breckenridge bench, a serve into the net and a misfired kill tied the match at 14-14.
Four points later, Erickson delivered a moment that will live on in Breckenridge sports history, a picture-perfect ace for the win. Breckenridge ran its season record to 29-2 with the championship victory, a feat truly worthy of a fire department escort back into the city.
The Cowgirls never settled, finally enjoying the fruits of their hard labor during the 2021 regular season. You could read the reaction on Beyer’s lips as she stood in the awards line with her seven senior teammates — “I wanted this so bad.”
Following the match, Wilson was named Section 6A Coach of the Year. Wilson owns a 41-3 record over the past two seasons. Breckenridge, the top-ranked team in the section last season when playoffs were cancelled by COVID-19, proved they deserve the title of back-to-back section champions.
“Our awesome coaching staff has pushed me and my teammates to be better volleyball players and even better people,” Kaehler said. “They encourage us through everything and always believe in us so that we can accomplish great things.”
Breckenridge moves on to the Class 1A Minnesota High School Volleyball State Tournament as the No. 5 seed. The Cowgirls face No. 4 seed Bethlehem Academy at 5 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 11 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota, in the quarterfinal round.