Technically, the Magic were the high seed and the host team.
In reality, they were the underdog to lower-seeded Bemidji from the more powerful north subsection.
Tuesday night, Monticello volleyball fulfilled the role of scrappy underdog. The hosts played with heart and energy as they fell to the defending section champions, but not before pushing the match to a full five sets.
“Bemidji said they’re going to state already,” said Magic Coach Beth Modaff after the game. “They planned to come in here and steamroll over us. I’m glad we made it tough on them.”
Did they ever. Bemidji had to work hard for each of their set wins, including two rather large comebacks.
In game one, five straight points with Gabby Gardener serving pushed the Magic to an early 7-1 lead. The energy was endless on the Magic side of the court, while the favored Jacks seemed to be playing tense, causing more than a couple of early mishits.
As Bemidji seemed to calm down, the margin narrowed. They visitors cut it to 12-10. Monticello held in front, pushing the lead to 17-14. Then Bemidji showed exactly why they were favored. The match went back and forth, with the Lumberjacks picking up a couple of extra points. Trailing by one, the Jacks picked up a beautiful dig, followed by a resounding block kill to tie the game up at 19. From there, the Jacks rolled to a 25-22 opening victory.
But, Monticello wasn’t about to go quietly into the night. Not even when the Jacks started fast to the tune of a 7-3 lead in the second. Monticello pushed right back, tying it at 8. Bemidji responded again, stretching the lead to 20-15.
But on a night where each team spent stretches looking unbeatable, it was
Monticello’s turn. The Magic reeled off seven of the next nine points, finally tying the game up at 22 on an ace from Gabbi Stein.
From there, the teams traded points, with the Magic earning four separate shots to put the set away. Finally, they did so. A 28-26 victory was secured, and the match was tied at one.
The momentum of the second set seemed to carry over to the third set. Monticello again jumped out to an early lead, this time building it all the way up to 11-2.
Bemidji would narrow the gap all the way to 16-15, but unlike in the first set, they couldn’t quite get over the hump. The Magic pulled away on the back of junior Jamie Maus who was absolutely brilliant throughout.
Maus would finish the match with a career-high 38 kills, and she got them in a variety of ways. She got them on tips to open spaces. She got them on spikes down the line, and she got them on spikes cross-court. The only common theme was that she continued to get them when the Magic needed them.
“As long as she’s getting kills, we’re going to get the ball back to her,” said Modaff. “She played her heart out. She ended up with almost 40 kills, which is absolutely amazing.”
Early in the fourth set, it seemed like Maus and the Magic might just be ready to pull off the upset. With Bemidji playing on its heels, the home team jumped to a 7-2 lead.
But then, roles reversed. Monticello, who had played clean throughout three games, started making the unforced errors. A service error here, a net violation there. The mistakes seemed to build Bemidji’s confidence. Soon, it was 9-9. Soon after that, it was 17-12 Jacks. They didn’t look back.
Bemidji ran to a 25-18 fourth set win.
In the fifth set, Monticello jumped out to another early lead, this time 3-1. But as Monticello assumed the role of the underdog, Bemidji perfectly played the role of favorite.
The Jacks calmly responded, scoring six of the next seven points. From there, they continued to push. They extended the lead all the way to 11-5. From there, they cruised to a 15-8 victory, ending Monticello’s season.
But, while seasons always end sooner than most would like, Monticello could certainly take solace in their end of season effort.
“I couldn’t ask for anything more,” said Modaff after the game. “I thought they played great. They executed well. I thought they played with heart. I’m proud of them.”
“It’s fun when it’s this kind of a match. Someone’s gotta win and someone’s gotta lose, but at least it’s a great match.”