FARGO — If defense wins championships, then the Oakes High School volleyball team should be a lock for the Class B state title.
Oakes topped Fargo Oak Grove in four sets (25-23, 21-25, 25-15, 25-21) in Friday night's semifinals at the Fargodome, receiving record-breaking performances by Nicole Schmitz and Sadie Hansen. Schmitz scored a tournament single-match record 41 kills, while Hansen tossed up a new tournament single-match record 70 assists.
Oakes will play Langdon-Edmore-Munich in Saturday's 5 p.m. title match. Oak Grove will battle Our Redeemer's for third place at 2 p.m.
"Defensively we were all over the floor," Oakes coach Shari Christenson said. "They were reading things so well and it was like never say die. They're used to hitting the floor and it was so fun to watch and to be a part of."
Claire Wagner, Oakes' 5-foot-1 libero, has anchored the Tornadoes' defense the entirety of her senior season. Wagner has popped up almost 500 balls to the four-year starting setter Hansen.
"That kid," Christenson said with a smile. "She doesn't get any love. She's just a fierce competitor and perfectionist and has a really hard job. Her volleyball IQ is so high that she makes changes on the floor and is given full autonomy to change our defense."
Wagner connected with Hansen 38 times in the semi, while teammate and 2019 senior athlete of the year Schmitz kept 41 balls alive.
"Nicole makes everybody look good," Wagner said. "I can just throw a ball up there and it's awesome, she just goes up there and gets it."
Schmitz had the numbers for the Tornadoes against the Grovers, but Christenson said another key player was integral at the net for Oakes.
"I've got to give a shoutout to Shayla Novak, who probably isn't leading any stat categories but we put her on their best middle hitter and said, 'It is your job to be up with her all the time,'" Christenson said. "Shayla said, 'That's my job,' and she was all about it. We've got to give a huge shoutout to that kid."
Novak ended the night with nine kills and two blocks against Oak Grove's Jaiden Zeis. Zeis put the ball down on Oakes' side of the floor 13 times and dug up five kills for setter Kara Berg.
"Oh my gosh, it was so much fun," Oak Grove head coach Julie Vancura said of the battle. "It was fun to see them (Oak Grove) come play. We knew that we had to stop number 10 -- that was their go-to player and if we could contain her then we could compete and that's what we did in those two sets."
"They've been outstanding, I have such a special group. I've got nine seniors and each of them leads in their own way. They all get along, they all push each other in practice and out ... it's so much fun."
Oakes is headed back to the state championship match. The squad knows it will be tough but are ready.
"It should be a good one," Wagner said.
OAK -- Kills: Nicole Schmitz 47, Emma Muggli 15, Sadie Hansen 10, Abby Cox 10, Shayla Novak 9, Allison Jepson 3, Jaida Seyer 2. Aces: Schmitz 6, Jepson 5, Wagner 3, Cox, Hansen, Novak, Seyer. Blocks: Muggli 2, Novak 2, Cox, Hansen, Schmitz, Seyer.
OG -- Jaiden Zeis 13, Julia Bogart 9, Sydney Olson 8, Kara Berg 4, Morgan Niemiller 2, Sophie Pundsack, Greta Larson. Aces: Bogart. Blocks: Berg 2, Niemiller 2, Olson, Pundsack, Zeis.