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Defense sparking East Grand Forks Senior High's first trip to section volleyball final in 14 years

Green Wave have a chance to advance to the state tournament for the time in program history.

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(From left) East Grand Forks Senior High's McKaylee Fitzpatrick, Elle Oberg, Zoe Nelson and Tatum Spokely celebrate a Green Wave point over Red Lake County Central in the third set of a home volleyball match in East Grand Forks on Thursday, September 15, 2022.
Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald
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EAST GRAND FORKS — The East Grand Forks Senior High volleyball team is on a postseason roll, and the Green Wave are doing it by avenging regular-season defeats.

East Grand Forks, 17-12 overall, has started the Minnesota Section 8AA tournament with straight-set sweeps over Menagha, Thief River Falls and Roseau.

Both Thief River Falls and Roseau beat the Green Wave earlier this year.

The Wave will need to flip yet another result in the section championship match Saturday at 7 p.m. against Barnesville in Glyndon, Minn.

It's East Grand Forks' first volleyball section championship appearance since the 2008-09 season, a 3-1 loss to Wadena-Deer Creek. The Green Wave, who finished 10-17 a year ago, have never been to the state volleyball tournament.

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East Grand Forks' Hayli Robertson, left, and McKaylee Fitzpatrick try to block Roseau's Kara Ulvin during their match Thursday in East Grand Forks.
Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

East Grand Forks coach Paula Devine said defense has been the key to the turnaround.

"We are defending the court a lot better," Devine said. "We're blocking better and our serve receive is passing better. That's all been fantastic on this last run here."

Devine said senior libero Claire Beck has stepped up as the team's leader in digs (459). Junior Allison Kovar (376 digs) has emerged, as well, while Ellie Marcott (378 digs) has progressed while making the leap from the C team last season to varsity this year.

The Green Wave's top kill leaders are sophomores in Addison Kujawa (274 kills), MacKaylee Fitzpatrick (179 kills) and Marcott (176 kills).

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East Grand Forks' Addison Kujawa, right, celebrates a Green Wave point as Roseau's Aubrey Waage, left, reacts during their match Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022 in East Grand Forks.
Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

Devine said Barnesville, which beat EGF in four sets in the regular season, has 11 seniors on its roster and is known for its strong middle hitters.

"We've been the underdog and shorter all season," Devine said. "We play bigger than we are. It's something we've had to deal with the entire season. Their middle hitters, with that size, will be a challenge."

The Wave assist leader is Tatum Spokely. The senior, who has 671 assists this year, surpassed 1,000 career assists during the subsection title match.

The Wave received a boost in late September when senior captain Hayli Robertson returned from injury.

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"Getting her back was pivotal," Devine said. "We were able to move Fitzpatrick back to right side, where she's more comfortable. (Robertson) is in for defense, and she's really the glue of our team."

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Hayli Robertson (24), Maddie Folden (7) and Maddy Stocker (17) celebrate a Green Wave point from the bench in the second set of a home volleyball match versu Red Lake County Central on Thursday, September 15, 2022.
Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald

Miller has covered sports at the Grand Forks Herald since 2004 and was the state sportswriter of the year in 2019.

His primary beat is UND football but also reports on a variety of UND sports and local preps.

He can be reached at (701) 780-1121, tmiller@gfherald.com or on Twitter at @tommillergf.
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