GAYLORD - Kristin Mohr and her teammates screamed the loudest they have all season during the first three sets in the Sibley East Junior High School gym on Tuesday.
It was in those three sets where No. 4-seeded New Ulm Cathedral had taken a 2-1 lead against top-seeded Buffalo Lake-Hector-Stewart, needing one more to advance to the North Subsection finals in Section 2A.
However, BLHS pulled out the final two sets to beat Cathedral in a five-set thriller (23-25, 25-23, 16-25, 25-19, 15-13) to advance to Thursday's title match in Mankato. Even though her team was inches away from pulling off the upset, Mohr did not hang her head.
"It doesn't get much closer than going five games, two points away from beating the No. 1 seed," said Mohr, who had a team-high 18 kills in her final match as a Greyhound. "If we were to lose, I would have it this way. We played our hearts out."
The Mustangs (18-11, 7-1 Tomahawk Conference) avenged their 25-23 loss in the first set by winning the second 25-23, but fell behind in the third when they gave up a 12-5 to trail 21-11. The cheers of excitement from the Greyhounds (16-9-1, 5-3) flooded the gym as they went on to win the third set 25-16 to take a 2-1 lead in the match.
"We cut down on our errors," said BLHS coach Sue Alstrom of the adjustments her team made after the first three sets. "The first and third games, we had way too many errors and we weren't communicating."
Alstrom said Cathedral took away her team's power-hitting abilities, forcing her players to instead tip the ball over the net for points.
"They played amazing defense and we knew that," Alstrom said of Cathedral.
Seniors Hannah VanderVoort and Maddie Ludowese gave the Cathedral defense the most work on the night, knocking home 36 combined kills - including eight of the 11 in the deciding fifth set.
It was in the fifth set where the Mustangs jumped out to a 4-0 lead, hushing the anxious Greyhounds for a brief moment.
"As a senior, I was thinking that this could be it," Mohr said. "That motivated me to not give up - I wasn't going to give up without a fight."
A big kill by Becca Ebbers gave BLHS an 8-5 lead, but three-straight attack errors tied the match at 8-8. Two kills by VanderVoort and a block by Kiana Johnson allowed BLHS to reclaim the three-point margin 11-8 lead before Cathedral called a timeout.
Cathedral pulled to within two at 12-10 after a kill and a block by Mohr caused Alstrom to call a timeout.
Trailing 14-12 following the final timeout of the match, Amber Hillesheim knocked in her eighth kill after having already celebrated what she and her teammates thought was a point that was actually dug up by BLHS and vollied back to their side mid-celebration. Hillesheim finished still managed to bury the ball in the Mustangs' side to pull to 14-13.
However, Cathedral's comeback attempt went for naught as BLHS held on for the 15-13 fifth-set win to advance.
"We just need to communicate and pass the ball forward as best we can," Alstrom said. "I always tell the kids to keep swinging."
Mohr and fellow seniors Karlee Pfaff, MacKinnon Ehlenz and Abby Hauser concluded their volleyball careers three wins away from state - a feat that Cathedral coach Stef Dietz said is thanks to them.
"I've been here for five years, this is the farthest we've made and this is the best volleyball team that I have coached," Dietz said. "This team was led by a great group of seniors and this team played volleyball.
"Everything about the game, they demonstrated and they brought this program to another level."