RAPID CITY – Making the SoDak 16 was the primary goal for the Elkton-Lake Benton Lady Elks.
They defeated Florence/Henry in that matchup to earn the co-op’s first state tournament berth and could easily have been satisfied just qualifying for the state tournament after accomplishing their goal.
Instead, they took it not one but two steps further, claiming their first win at state on Friday, and then on Saturday, winning the consolation championship in Class A.
The seventh-seeded Lady Elks won the first two sets of their opening-round matchup with Garretson before the Blue Dragons rallied to win the final three sets, sending Elkton-Lake Benton to the consolation bracket where they met up with Hamlin, a matchup of two teams who did not play during the season despite a relatively short distance between the schools.
The Lady Elks got off to a slow start against the Chargers, dropping the first two sets by scores of 25-22 and 25-21. However, they would regroup in a big way, winning the final three sets (all going beyond a set-winning score) 27-25, 26-24, and 18-16, to advance to the consolation championship.
Head coach Melissa Erickson said her team willed themselves to win the match against the Chargers.
“The girls were a little slow on their feet and weren’t connecting really well in the first two sets against Hamlin,” Erickson said, “but then they kind of flipped a switch and decided that this is not how they want their story to end. They put things together, played some incredible defense and got the offense going.”
The Lady Elks spread the ball around on offense as three players registered double-digit kills as Kailyn Drietz (17), Rachael Krog (15), and Kylie Ramlo (11) kept the Chargers’ defense guessing.
“Spreading the ball around was huge for us,” Erickson said. “In volleyball it’s so much harder to defend when all the girls around the net can attack the ball instead of relying on one spot. We tried to split up our offense to spread things around and make every girl available to attack and make Hamlin defend the entire court.”
Krog also led the Lady Elks with digs with 31, while Ramlo and Tevan Erickson added 20.
Elkton-Lake Benton recorded ten total blocks in the match. Aubree Bales had two solo blocks and three assists, while Erickson, Ramlo, and Drietz all added a solo block.
Erickson also had a pair of service aces to go along with 52 set assists.
The win moved the Lady Elks to Saturday’s consolation final against another even more unfamiliar opponent, the Hill City Rangers, a team almost as close to the Wyoming border as Elkton is to Minnesota.
“I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from them,” Erickson said. “I watched their Friday night match so that helped a bit with preparation. They had a couple girls over six foot tall that really put up some walls for us and we had to work around them and that challenged us at times and made us use some different tools in our tool belt.”
The two teams traded set wins to start as Elkton-Lake Benton won the first set, 25-21, and the Rangers claimed set two, 25-22. Again, the Lady Elks let the state know who they were and fought to win set three, 25-21, and set four, 26-24, to secure the consolation championship hardware.
“The girls persevered,” Erickson said. “They put everything together and did not quit.”
Krog and Drietz again led the Lady Elks in kills with 14 and 12, respectively. Ramlo added eight kills and Madisyn Nielsen recorded seven kills.
Krog posted a game-high 28 digs, as well.
ELB again had ten team blocks with Ramlo posting two solo blocks and three assists, while both Erickson and Bales had one solo block and three block assists.
Erickson also tallied 43 set assists as well as a pair of service aces.
Ramlo (3) and Kayla Goertz (2) added service aces for the Lady Elks who finished the match with seven aces in total.
The Lady Elks finished their season with a record of 24-12, including a win in their final match, something Erickson is very proud of.
“I don’t think any of us could be any prouder of what we accomplished this season and how we ended our season,” Erickson said. “It’s an incredible feeling to know you ended your season with a state tournament win; only 12 teams get to experience that across the three classes of volleyball. We feel very blessed to be one of those teams.”