PIERCE — With its first shot at momentum in the balance, Wynot was unable to duck under the limbo bar in a 25-17, 25-22, 25-23 loss to O'Neill St. Mary's in the Class D2-2 district final here Thursday.
More accurately, the Blue Devils weren't able to duck the ball.
With the score tied at 23 in the third set, a O'Neill St. Mary's serve sailed beyond the back line. But as Skylar Arkfeld ducked under the ball at the last moment, it grazed her forehead before landing a few feet beyond the line.
O'Neill St. Mary's promptly took advantage, scoring the winning point on a Logan Connot kill to secure a trip to next week's state tournament. Even with a loss, the Cardinals likely would have qualified as a wild card.
But winning their way in was a bit sweeter.
"I mentioned in the locker room before the game that, unless crazy things happen, we should be going. But it is better to go in with a win," O'Neill St. Mary's coach McKenzie Connot said. "They have that confidence, and we don't have a loss at the end of our schedule going into the state tournament."
On their side of the court, the Blue Devils struggled with their serve throughout the match. They committed 11 service errors, including five in the final set. Four of their mistakes came with a chance to tie or take the lead.
"Just when we kind of rose to the occasion, we turned around and, for lack of a better term almost shot our own foot off. You almost have the momentum, and you miss a serve," Wynot coach Tammy Wieseler said. "Missed serves are crucial, I think, just about anywhere in the game. It gives a team a free point, and nobody has to work for that."
Meanwhile, the Cardinals played a relatively clean match and never gave away points — or the momentum — to Wynot. The Cardinals had only four service and seven attack errors, while Wynot's serving troubles were compounded by 13 attack errors and five net violations.
The setting of Taylor Colman — who finished with 25 assists while spreading the ball evenly across the court was a big reason O'Neill St. Mary's avoided mistakes. Colman got the ball to Connot for nine kills, Hattie Blumenstock for eight, Brianna Bauer for six and both Breanna Hedstrom and Hailey Eiler for four as the Cardinals won for the 14th time in 16 matches.
"Taylor is very talented. She reads the ball well and, as the year has gone on, she's gotten smarter with her setting choices too," Connot said. "She reads where the block is and will push it elsewhere, and she's very coachable. She's good about correcting or doing what we want, and she never lets it frustrate her."
While Wynot was able to take three late leads in the final set, the Blue Devils were playing from behind throughout the match. O'Neill St. Mary's led from start to finish in the first set and trailed only once — at 2-1 — in the second.
"Sometimes our girls come out a little bit flat. You'd think they'd come out fired up for a big game like this, but they just take a bit to gel again even though they've been playing together a long period of time," Wieseler said. "We were playing from behind and constantly playing defense. We had to give them free ball after free ball, and when you give a team like that easy points on serves and free balls, that becomes hard to come back from."
Unofficially earning a wild-card berth to state, Wynot was led by Cortney Arkfeld's match-high 16 kills. Skylar Arkfeld added eight kills, and Katlyn Heine had 30 set assists.
In addition to her work setting, Colman finished with three ace serves to help St. Mary's reach state for the fifth year in a row despite having to replace several contributors from last year's team.
"These girls have worked hard. Sometimes you walk the line with just getting by instead of working hard, but it's clicked for these girls that they knew they had to work," Connot said. "We have the skills, but we needed to learn how to put them to use at all times. "
O'Neill St. Mary's defeats Wynot 25-17, 25-22, 25-23
O'NEILL ST. MARY'S (26-5): Hailey Eiler 1s, 4k; Logan Connot 9k, 1a; Taylor Colman 25s, 2k, 3a; Breanna Hedstrom 4k, 1a; Brianna Bauer 6k, 2b; Hattie Blumenstock 8k, 2b.
WYNOT (25-4): Katlyn Heine 30s, 4k, 1b, 1a; Julia Eskens 3k, 2b; Carissa Kuchta 3k, 1b; Cortney Linder 4k, 1a; Skylar Arkfeld 8k; Cortney Arkfeld1s, 16k, 2a.