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Going To The 'Ship: Jays defeat Mandan in state semifinals

Courtney Peterson of Jamestown leaps in joy after her team defeated Mandan during the semifinals of the N.D. Class A Volleyball Tournament on Friday in the Fargodome. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

FARGO—Megan Gaffaney and the Blue Jays don't know the meaning of quit.

The Jamestown High School senior setter laid it all on the line—literally—in a deciding fifth set of the state Class A volleyball semifinals Friday at the Fargodome. Gaffaney's sliding play to keep a ball alive fell for a Blue Jay point against Mandan, and Jamestown is headed back to the state championship match for the first time since winning it all in 2013.

Gaffaney's play gave Jamestown an early 3-0 lead in the final race to 15. The Blue Jays hung on to win the decider 17-15 and will face Bismarck Century tonight at 7 p.m. in the state finale.

"Oh my gosh, that was incredible," said an emotional Gaffaney, who filled the stat sheet with 15 kills, 53 assists and 28 digs. "I just wanted to get the ball up, and getting that point off that was just the coolest thing."

It was the second time this season Jamestown and Mandan needed five sets to decide a winner, and the Braves finally looked like they'd get the better of the Jays after falling to Jamestown twice during the regular season.

Mandan won the first two sets 25-20, 25-19, keeping Jamestown out of system with strong play at the net. Jamestown was also making errors, including four at the service line during an early 5-0 Mandan run.

Mandan led by as many as seven in the first, and the Jays went on to send two more serves into the net while trailing 14-12 and 17-13 in the second.

"We didn't do things that we normally do, but they didn't quit tonight," Jamestown coach Sara Hegerle said of the Blue Jays. "To come back shows their resilience, and shows that they really wanted to be in this match tomorrow."

Jamestown charged back to win the third 25-23, receiving four of senior outside hitter McKayla Kurtz's 13 kills and six of junior middle Courtney Peterson's match-high 25. The Braves nearly came all the way back from a 22-14 deficit in the frame.

Senior hitter Jordan Paulson came up clutch in the fourth for Jamestown, finding the floor twice for kills after an 18-all tie to help Jamestown win 25-20. Paulson ended the night with seven kills, while senior all-state libero Hannah Schiele recorded 47 digs.

"We knew it was going to be a hard-fought battle," Mandan coach Anna Folk said. "We play very similar games, Jamestown and us, and it was going to be a nail-biter. Unfortunately, there's going to be a winner and a loser and it wasn't our time to win."

Mandan, who will play Valley City today at 3 p.m. for third place, committed a service error and an attacking error to start the fifth, before Gaffaney's play of the night.

Tied at 15-15, Gaffaney went to senior Alyssa Ukestad who sent home the final two points from the outside with her 11th and 12th kills of the match.

"The first thing that was going through my head while I was in the air was like, 'Kill it. Let's get this point,'" Ukestad said. "We just have so much fight in us because we've been training for this so long. This has been our goal and we made it."

Mandan was led by junior Megan Zander with 20 kills, while juniors Kennedy Harris (27) and Katie Weiand (20) combined for 47 assists.

"We've never wanted to play that Mandan team because of that reason right there," Hegerle said. "We never one time thought that this was going to be easy, because Mandan has so many great players."

Jamestown's six seniors were eighth-graders when the Blue Jays won its Class A state volleyball championship in 2013. That win came 3-2 against tonight's opponent—Bismarck Century.

The Patriots have defeated Jamestown in 2 of 3 matches played this season, including 3-1 in last week's West Region tournament championship match. Jamestown, however, swept Century 3-0 in Jamestown on Sept. 7.

Bismarck Century, who defeated Valley City 3-1 in the semifinals, has now reached the state title match in seven straight seasons. The defending state champions have won three titles in that span.

"We really wanted this," Gaffaney said "This has been the goal since we were freshman. We've just been working for this forever."

Jamestown 3, Mandan 2

JHS 20 19 25 25 17

MHS 25 25 23 20 15

JHS—Aces: Olivia Nihill 1. Assists: Megan Gaffaney 52, Hannah Schiele 6, Alyssa Ukestad 2, Kameron Selvig 2, Courtney Peterson 1, Jordan Paulson 1, McKayla Kurtz 1, Nihill 1. Kills: Peterson 25, Gaffaney 15, Kurtz 13, Ukestad 12, Paulson 7. Blocks: Gaffaney 1. Digs: Schiele 47, Gaffaney 28, Nihill 24, Ukestad 16, Peterson 15, Paulson 10, Selvig 8, Kurtz 6.

MHS—Aces: Katie Weiand 3, Sydney Walters 1, Emily Tweten 1. Assists: Kennedy Harris 27, Weiand 20, Megan Zander 3, Walters 2, Lakyn Darras 1, Elizabeth Leingang 1. Kills: Zander 20, Courtney Olson 12, Olivia Moe 9, Darras 8, Walters 7, Tweten 6, Harris 1. Blocks: Zander 6, Olson 3, Moe 2. Digs: Leingang 37, Walters 31, Harris 29, Moe 25, Weiand 14, Olson 5, Tweten 2, Darras 3, Zander 7.

Records: Jamestown 37-5; Mandan 25-17.

Michael Savaloja

Hometown: Churchs Ferry, N.D.; College: North Dakota

A recipient of the NDHSCA Award of Merit, Savaloja has been reporting sports for The Sun since 2008.

Follow on Twitter: @MichaelSavaloja

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