For just the third time this season Manhattan Christian lost a set. But the defending Class C champions responded in a big way Wednesday night.
The Eagles rallied to beat Fort Benton 19-25, 25-12, 25-10, 25-22 in a non-conference clash. It was the first loss of the season for the Longhorns (13-1), while Christian improved to 16-0.
Having swept 14 of their previous 15 opponents, first-year Eagles head coach Hannah Van Dyk noted her team was taken aback in the first set.
“I think we were a little surprised. They came out guns blazing and we were a little bit shocked by that (and) on our heels a little bit,” she said. “We made some adjustments that second set just to get a stronger block up. They had a pretty tough middle that we had a hard time with.”
Van Dyk switched up the rotation in the second set, which Christian won easily, and then went back to the normal starting rotation in the third after the team found its footing.
Kiersten Van Kirk led the charge for the Eagles, tallying a team-high 22 kills. It was a big bounce performance for the southpaw, who struggled the previous night in a league win at Gardiner.
“Kiersten was frustrated with her game against Gardiner, but she had a fantastic game,” said Van Dyk.
While Van Kirk led the offensive attack, the entire team stepped up to the challenge. Taylor DeVries and Katelyn Van Kirk each finished with eight kills and combined for 26 digs, and Eliana Kuperus added a team-high 17 digs.
“It was really good to see the team come together,” said Van Dyk. “Katelyn and Kiersten were our big hitters, but Hailey (VanDyken) did a fantastic job in the middle blocking. Hope (Kenney) contributed, and Eli hit well, blocked well, passed well.”
Katelyn Van Kirk, a freshman outside hitter, had one of her best matches defensively. She finished with 14 digs.
“I don’t think Katelyn’s, defensively, passed that well all season long and she’s going out there giving it her all,” said Van Dyk. “It was really fun to see that.”
Libero Maddie Visser tallied 13 digs, while VanDyken chipped in with 3.5 blocks and two kills.
Having rarely been pushed by an opponent since a five-set victory against Choteau to begin the season, Van Dyk credited her team for stepping up to the challenge against a quality foe.
“I think it just pushes you to another level that you haven’t played at,” she said of the competition. “I think it just pulled the team together with all eight of them seeing how important each individual is to the success of the team, and they really stepped up and filled their roles.”
With no school Thursday or Friday, and a busy stretch of matches complete, Van Dyk is giving her players a long weekend. Christian will return to action Tuesday at Manhattan, and then wrap up the regular season Oct. 22 hosting unbeaten Lone Peak in a conference match.
“We’re going to take a little bit of a break and then Monday hit it hard, and we’re going to get ready for Manhattan,” Van Dyk said.
Manhattan Christian def. Fort Benton 19-25, 25-12, 25-10, 25-22.
MANHATTAN CHRISTIAN (16-0) - Kills: 46 (Kiersten Van Kirk 22). Digs: 68 (Eliana Kuperus 17, Katelyn Van Kirk 14). Blocks: 11 (Hailey VanDyken 3.5). Aces: 10 (Taylor DeVries 3). Assists: 43 (DeVries 33).
FORT BENTON (13-1) - Stats not provided.