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‘We beat ourselves’: Century volleyball suffers first loss of season to No. 3 Northfield

Century's tough matchup against No. 3 Northfield gave the Panthers a preview of the competition the team is likely to face in the section tournament.

Century, Northfield girls volleyball
Century's Ava Decker hits the ball during a volleyball game against Northfield on Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022, at Century High School in Rochester.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin
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ROCHESTER — There are worse teams for the Century volleyball team to lose to, and coach Nichelle Guillaume knows that.

But losing a match for the first time after a 12-0 start to the 2022 season — a stretch in which the Panthers lost just one set — was a hard pill to swallow.

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Guillaume said she knew her squad was up against a very good team in No. 3-ranked Northfield, so she isn’t disappointed in Tuesday’s 3-2 loss at the Century High School gym.

“We learned a lot,” she said. “And honestly, we’ll see them again.”

It’s quite possible that the Panthers (5-1 Big Nine, 12-1 overall) will see the Raiders (5-0, 15-2) again in the Section 1AAAA tournament, which begins in a month.

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Tuesday's showdown allowed the Panthers to gauge where the team stands against a tough competitor. Northfield, a traditional Big Nine Conference and state-wide powerhouse, is off to a roaring start again in 2022. The Raiders won the Big Nine four consecutive seasons from 2017-2020, before being unseated by Mayo last year.

Tuesday’s victory leaves Northfield and Mayo as the lone unbeatens in the Big Nine. Those teams are scheduled to meet in the final week of the regular season, on Tuesday, Oct. 11, at Northfield.

Tuesday at Century, it became clear early on in the match that the Panthers still have things to work on ahead of the postseason.

It seems simple enough, but the biggest issue Century faced was handing Northfield free points.

Century shot itself in the foot numerous times. The Panthers made unforced errors on their side of the court, such as missed serves and hits that sailed out of bounds, allowing Northfield to play its game and control the first two sets, winning 25-17 and 25-14.

“The first few sets, we basically handed it to them,” Guillaume said. “We’ve got to make them earn the points.”

Century, Northfield girls volleyball
Century's Elise Jensen (34) hits the ball during a volleyball game against Northfield on Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022, at Century High School in Rochester.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin

Century also missed hits, which is uncharacteristic for a team led by senior middle hitter Paige Decker. Decker tipped more balls than she hit, and she didn’t have the same spark in the first two sets.

Then came the third.

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“Energy” was the word repeated on the court by senior Tiana Stevens throughout the second set, and Century bought into that mindset heading into the third set.

The Panthers were never out of the match — Century just had to adjust to Northfield’s strengths, play stronger defense, consistently set its hitters and win long rallies. The Panthers did all of that to win the third and fourth sets by identical 25-21 scores.

“I think we needed to win that third set to have the energy to keep our momentum going,” Guillaume said, “Otherwise, (a fifth set) never would have happened.”

The Panthers dropped the hard-fought fifth set 15-11.

Century handed Northfield countless free balls and tips, and the Panthers were regularly out of system.

But none of that really mattered to Guillaume.

“We can play defense against them. We can take their stuff,” she said. “It really just came down to us. We beat ourselves a little bit.”

Northfield 3, Century 2
Northfield#25#25#21#21#15
Century#17#14#25#25#11
Northfield: No stats submitted.
Century: Megan Lund 42 assists; Kaitlyn Meincke 30 digs; Paige Decker 18 kills, 5 aces.

Abby Sharpe joined the Post Bulletin in February 2022 after graduating from Arizona State University with a sports journalism degree. While at ASU, she created short- and long-form stories for audio and digital. Readers can reach Abby at 507-285-7723 or asharpe@postbulletin.com.
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