Bethel recreates similar outcome against familiar opponent
By Sam Johnson
For the second time in the span of a week, the University of Wisconsin-Stout Blue Devils traveled across state lines to face off against the Bethel Royals in the Robertson Center gymnasium Friday evening.
The Royals came into the match boasting a six-game winning streak without dropping a single set along the way. The Blue Devils knew firsthand what that dominance feels like, since they were swept by the same Royals squad Saturday during the Bethel Invitational.
Before all of the fans that packed the gym had a chance to settle in on the benches, the signs were already pointing to that winning streak continuing. The Royals jumped out of the gates to a quick 8-1 lead with stifling team defense and disrupting vertical length at the net. However, the Blue Devils responded in a way which indicated that they did not want to suffer the same fate as they did last week.
Stout came roaring back to tie the set at 10 apiece, until the home squad rallied back with a run of their own, winning 10 out of the next 12 points en route to what looked to be a dominant set victory.
That was not the case.
Once again, the Blue Devils kept creeping back with aggressive hits and tenacious defense and somehow got the set all tied up again, this time at 23-23.
This late surge from Stout caused Royals head coach Gretchen Hunt to use a much-needed timeout to calm her girls down and call a play.
“I was kind of annoyed in that moment,” Hunt recollected after the match. “I feel like we should not have given that away.”
However, the set was not lost just yet. Bethel got a huge boost all night from sophomore middle blocker Maria Claflin, but especially to close out the opening set. Claflin combined with sophomore right side hitter Macie Gavic to block Stout’s attempt at a kill and give the Royals a one point lead at 25-24. Claflin was not done yet in the first frame, capping the set off with thunderous kill and sparked the roaring ovation of the Bethel faithful as the Royals captured the opening set 26-24.
Set number two began again with Bethel jumping out to a large lead that climaxed when the Blue Devils called a timeout in the midst of an 11-0 Royals run that had the Royals up 17-5. Senior middle blocker Karin Canakes gave the team a jolt in the second frame, contributing three kills along with three blocks. With no late-set drama to show for this time, the Royals took the set 25-18.
The third set continued the pattern of the evening: the Royals getting off to an early lead in the frame. Their consistent team defense from top to bottom was on display in the set, as well as the offensive depth that this team has at its disposal. The entirety of the set was in Bethel’s control, capped off by Claflin’s two powerful kills towards the end of the set that got the crowd on its feet, knowing that the Royals had sealed the deal once again in three sets.
Claflin ended the match with a team-high 8 kills, along with 5 digs and 4 blocks. After the match, Coach Hunt expressed how she appreciates all that her sophomore does for this team.
“She [Claflin] is super important…she puts pressure on the other team all the time. We’re heavily relying on her.”
The Royals will now travel to St. Peter for an inter-conference tilt tomorrow afternoon against Gustavus at 3 p.m. The next home match is Friday evening back at the Robertson Center at 7 p.m. when Hamline University comes to town. It is also Youth Night next Friday, so all youth and their families are encouraged to come out and support the Royals volleyball team.