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In battle of top teams, Esko gets the 'W'

Two of the area's better volleyball teams hooked up last week when the South Ridge Panthers traveled to Esko to take on the Eskomos. While Esko pulled away to a 3-1 win, the fans of both teams were treated to an exciting volleyball exhibition.

Esko took Game 1 with a 25-20 win, but Game 2 saw South Ridge bounce back with a 25-21 win, and then Esko answered with back-to-back wins of 25-23 and 25-14 to capture the match.

"It was nice to be tested," said Esko coach Pete Stasiuk. "They run a good program over there and they made us work to get the win."

Esko rode the strong left arm of Gabby Martenson, who finished with 23 kills, and Kyra Johnson, who added 22 kills to nab the victory over the feisty Panthers.

"We knew they had a good setter and some real good hitters," said Panthers coach Brad Olesiak. "We just didn't have enough answers for their power hitters."

After falling in Game 1, the Panthers picked things up and tied the match after the second-game win.

"In that second game we got rolling and off to a good start," Olesiak said. "We had a six- or seven-point lead in the third game, but they were able to change the momentum and get the win. They are a good team and made key plays at critical times."

The Panthers were led by Svea Snickers with 14 kills and Kaitaia Klemetson with 12 kills. Adella Olesiak led the Panthers defense with 34 digs while Snickers added 13. Rylee Young finished with 31 set assists.

"After that second game, our girls knew they were in a fight," said Stasiuk.

"Once we got into Game 3 and into Game 4, the girls relaxed and they took care of play on our side of the court.

We haven't had many tough games like that all year, so to get pushed and then being able to push through to get the win was big for our team."

Kaitlin Lattner ran the Esko offense to precision with 45 set assists and Lizzie Hartlieb provided back row help by coming up with 25 digs.

"I thought our girls played well and we went into a tough environment to play," said Olesiak of playing in Esko. "They have one of the best fan sections and we love going there to play. We are getting better and the more we play matches like that the better we'll get at learning how to close out matches."

Esko's coach staff echoed those sentiments.

"Playing good teams and getting tested are what makes your team better," said Stasiuk. "We'll get a good test this week when we play Cloquet and we look forward to that as well."

In action on Tuesday, Sept. 27, Cloquet swept Esko, 3-0, by scores of 25-22, 25-21, 25-19. Ava Carlson led the Lumberjacks with four blocks and 15 kills, followed by Aili Buytaert (seven kills), Blythe Proulx (four kills, three blocks), and Carly Johnson (four kills, 16 digs and 23 set assists).

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