BY CHAD DARE firstname.lastname@example.org
---- — BISMARCK — One single word summed up the night for senior Mary Bass and the Bismarck-Henning Blue Devils — fun.
From start to finish, Bass and the Blue Devils had fun as they defeated the Westville Tigers 25-22, 25-15 in the IHSA Class 2A regional semifinals at Bismarck-Henning High School.
"I thought is was fun,'' said Bass, who had a match-high 15 kills. "I was pumped for this and I just wanted to make it to the championship match.''
And Bismarck-Henning (16-9) will be making their 14th consecutive appearance in a volleyball regional championship match. The last time, the Blue Devils didn't reach the regional championship was 1999.
"We just talked all night and we had fun as team. That's just the way that we played tonight,'' said Bass. "It's 100 percent easier when we are having fun.
"Because if we are not having run, we are probably yelling at each other and not talking. It's hard to play that way.''
The only yelling on Tuesday night were those of joy from the Blue Devils.
"It's been kind of a tough season for us, and they have been feeling a little pressure because of that,'' Bismarck-Henning coach Susan Kentner said. "We have been on them about enjoying the game and enjoying the sport. Tonight, they did and it made a huge difference.
"They were not playing with a weight on their shoulders. I think they just wanted to get to the regional championship.''
And once the Bismarck-Henning senior duo of Maddie Winkler and Bass got rolling, things quickly went downhill for Westville.
"We were just excited for this tournament and we're glad that we get to host regionals,'' Winkler said. "Mary Bass was on fire tonight. You have to give her the ball when she is on fire like she was tonight. She knows where to put it and it seems like she is always hitting the ball down.''
It didn't matter what the Tigers (10-17) tried to do in defense.
"Mary Bass is a really good athlete,'' Westville coach Annie Pickelsimer said. "Last night, we made an adjustment in our blocking schemes. We tried to do the same thing tonight, but it didn't matter.
"I even tried to have a girl cheating to help on the block against Bass, but Bismarck saw it and went around us.''
Late in the second set, Bismarck-Henning got kills from Lindsey Andrews and a tip/kill from Winkler during its 10-5 run to close out the match.
"It was a very good night from Mary Bass,'' Kentner said. "We want to get Mary involved quickly and often, but we also understand that we have other really good hitters around her. Tonight, Mary did a good job of finding the court quickly.
"And when we saw Westville trying to cheat on her, we made our own adjustment.''
Westville was able to match Bismarck-Henning point-for-point in the first set, ultimately the Blue Devils pulled out a 25-22 victory.
"The first set kind of set the pace for us,'' said Picklesimer, who was pleased with the effort from her Tigers. "We lost by three and we missed three serves. That was the difference between winning the set and losing the set.''
With the victory, Bismarck-Henning advances to the regional championship where the Blue Devils will face the top-seeded Salt Fork Storm.
"Now, we're going to start focusing on Salt Fork,'' said Winkler. "This means everything since we didn't win the county title. Winning a regional title will mean to us and a lot to our coach.''
Salt Fork has won both previous meetings with Bismarck-Henning. The Storm defeated the Blue Devils 25-17, 25-22 in the Vermilion County Tournament and on Oct. 22, Salt Fork won in three sets (25-18, 16-25, 25-22) over Bismarck-Henning.
Thursday's championship match at Bismarck-Henning is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m.