WATERTOWN – As Yankton head volleyball coach Shanna Ibarolle-Koenig looked at the Class AA SoDak 16 loss to top-seeded Watertown, the progress made in between the Gazelles’ first meeting with the now 25-2 Arrows and the 25-12, 25-15, 25-12 decision Thursday at the Watertown Civic Arena are quite evident.

“The difference between what we looked like the first time and this time is night and day,” she said. “There were times tonight I was sitting back and watching, and was impressed with what we were putting together.”

In each of the three sets, Yankton was within three as with the Arrows at 10 points.

“We talked a lot about playing with heart and grit,” Koenig said. “The game against O’Gorman (regular season finale on Nov. 7) really helped them understand what that meant.”

On what would be the final night of their high school careers, the Gazelles got strong efforts out of their three seniors. Gabby Pietila finished with 12 of the team’s 20 kills. Ivy Mines finished with 10 digs. Alyson Johnson also contributed in the back row for Yankton.

“We were lucky to have the three seniors we had,” Koenig said. “I was impressed with how they persevered this season. They were the backbone of the culture.”

The youngest Gazelle, eighth grade setter Camille McDermott, also shined on the post-season stage, recording 19 assists, 11 digs and — despite her 5-5 frame — two assisted blocks.

“Camille has great knowledge of the game. She’s able to read what the defense is doing,” Koenig said. “She’s also very quick and plays defense with a lot of grit.”

Also for Yankton, Jordynn Salvatori had four kills and Britta Pietila had two assisted blocks.

Yankton played Watertown to a 9-9 start before the Arrows put together their biggest surge of the match. A combination of big plays at the net from  Mckenzie Buisker, Sophie Tietz and Meghan Heggelund propelled Watertown through a 23-5 surge that put the Arrows up 7-2 in the second set.

“I don’t feel like we played with the freedom we played with against O’Gorman,” Koenig said. “But we were able to capitalize on certain moments.”

Yankton built back to within two in the second set, but an offensive surge led by Maggie Heesch helped the Arrows secure the second set.

Yankton also played well to start the third set, trailing 9-7, but Buisker and Tietz helped put away the match and secure a state tournament berth.

Watertown will face Harrisburg in the first round on Nov. 21 in Rapid City. Yankton ends its season at 5-23, with a 5-6 record since Oct. 15.

“We have a young team. For some of these girls, it was the biggest match they’ve ever played in,” Koenig said. “We need to learn to be able to play to win, regardless of what it says on the scoreboard.”

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