South Dakota

Stevens outlasts Roosevelt for first state tournament berth since 2019

Carsyn Mettler stretched her arm against a thundering spike from a Sioux Falls Roosevelt batsman in a desperate attempt to keep a point alive during the deciding fifth set of Saturday’s Class AA SoDak 16 match at Carold Heier Gymnasium.

Not only did the ball stay afloat, it bounced off the Rapid City Stevens senior’s arm and sailed back over the net, landing in a spot on the hardwood floor in front of a stunned Rough Riders team.

A smiling Mettler turned to her bench after the point to show her team the mark on her arm left by the spike.

“Expect the unexpected, I guess,” she said afterwards, giggling. “Know that anything is possible.”

Mettler’s grab turn kill served as a crucial point in the match, the point coming on an 8-1 run the No. 8 Raiders used to close the fifth set and with an exciting 30-28, 20-25 to get away. 19-25, 25-18, 15-9 win over the No. 9 Rough Riders to reach their first state tournament since 2019.

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“I started crying when we did it and I didn’t think I was going to choke very much out there,” said Stevens head coach Elizabeth Pendegraft. “In the end I told them, I know you know how to play, so I know we’re fine.”

The win marks Pendegraft’s first state tournament spot, which she achieved in her sophomore year as leader of the Raiders (23-12). She took over the program in 2021, replacing Kylie Voorhees, who last led the team to State in 2019 and led them to the championship the year before.

Mettler was a member of the 2019 team and was joined by fellow 12th graders Macey Wathen, Eva Heinert and Claire Fierro, saying the return to State was particularly memorable.

“It’s very exciting, especially since it’s our last year,” said Mettler, who scored the last two points of the game for Stevens. “That makes it even more special.”

The Rough Riders (13-16) entered the competition with a record loss, but their heavy punching power was unmistakable. The Raiders previously had a hard-fought straight-set win over their Class AA opponent during the regular season on September 16, winning the third set 30-28.

“They had a lot of good strengths. It’s a good team,” Pendegraft said of Roosevelt. “It’s a good win because they didn’t roll over us. They’ve changed a lot of things on offense from what they normally do to align with what we do as hitters.

Stevens needed seven set points to grab the opening frame and eventually conquered it with a Wathen ace, but he couldn’t capitalize on the advantage as Roosevelt capitalized on a 13-3 run that included a 6-0 stretch to take a building a 19-13 lead this second.

The Raiders came back to two at 20-18 by taking five of the next six points, but the Rough Riders came back with four straights and leveled the match with a kill from Avery Goebel on their third set point to one set.

Stevens chained a 9-3 run in the third set, fueled by a trio of kills from Mettler, and rolled to 18-16 on a 4-0 stretch before a reverse call that gave the point to Roosevelt instead killed Momentum as the Rough Riders then started a 7-0 run and broke away to take the frame.

Roosevelt took a 6-1 lead in the fourth set and later appeared to be heading for the win with a 12-8 advantage, but Stevens hit back when Isabell Higgins started with three kills and a solo block to lead her side 17-6 lead run to win the frame and force a decision for the right to compete at the Denny Sanford PREMIER Center next week.

“I’ve known all year, this team doesn’t give up,” Pendegraft said. “We had games where we were 10 points behind and they didn’t give up. You just have the will not to want to lose.”

The Raiders gave the Rough Riders a couple of serve errors in the fifth set and were 6-5 down, but a Wathen kill sparked an 8-1 run as Stevens began to pull away. A Mettler kill gave her team match points 14-9, and after Roosevelt blocked the first, she ended the match with a roaring kill from center court.

“We have a lot of struggle in us, and we just knew we wanted it,” Mettler said. “So we knew we had to fight for it.”

It’s only the second five-setter for the Raiders this season, the first coming on Oct. 7 when they also overcame a 2-1 deficit and beat Mitchell at home. They meet top seeded Sioux Falls Washington (25-9) in the first round of the state tournament at the PREMIER Center in Sioux Falls on Thursday at 10:30 MT.

The Warriors beat the Raiders in four sets, 20-25, 25-16, 25-12, 25-19 during their regular season meeting on November 4.

Contact Matt Case at [email protected]

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