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Volleyball: Yellowjackets strive for consistency after cruising past conference and section rival Hawley

The Perham volleyball team followed up its toughest week of the season with a 3-1 win over Heart O'Lakes Conference and Section 8-2A rival Hawley. Read about how the Yellowjackets are striving for consistency at the midway point of the regular season.

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Perham'sWillow Thiel tips the ball over the net in the Yellowjackets' 3-1 win over Hawley on Sept. 13, 2022 at The Hive.
Jared Rubado / Perham Focus
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PERHAM – The Perham volleyball team returned to Earth on Tuesday after its most action-packed week of the regular season.

The Yellowjackets (6-5) cruised to a 3-1 win over Heart O’Lakes Conference and Section 8-2A rival Hawley (3-5) at The Hive. It was a much-needed win following a rollercoaster of a week where Perham played in seven matches.

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Perham's Morgan Burkman goes up for a block in the Yellowjackets' 3-1 win over Hawley on Sept. 13, 2022 at The Hive.
Jared Rubado / Perham Focus

“I think it really shows how much we’ve been practicing and working together to come out strong and stay consistent,” Perham junior Willow Thiel said of the Yellowjackets’ ability to come out focused. “We stayed scrappy and put the ball away instead of playing scared.”

The Yellowjackets jumped out to a 16-8 lead over the Nuggets behind a 10-3 run. Junior Jaden Hackel served four consecutive points while tallying an ace to help Perham pull ahead.

Perham senior Morgan Burkman was a problem at the net all night for Hawley. She put home a set point to give the Yellowjackets a 25-14 win.

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Perham's Jaden Hackel, left, goes up for a kill in the first set of the Yellowjackets' 3-1 win over Hawley on Sept. 13, 2022 at The Hive.
Jared Rubado / Perham Focus

“She’s 100% been confident in who she is and doing her job,” Perham head coach Nikki Morrison said of Burkman. “She’s just kind of changed herself as a player to get to where she is now. I’m so proud of her. She’s been a huge factor for us in changing how effective we are and has done so much for the team chemistry as well.”

Thiel took over in the second set. She tallied five kills to lead the Yellowjackets to a 25-12 win and a 2-0 set lead. Thiel kept the Nuggets off-balanced with several tips instead of traditional spikes. Despite being one of Perham’s most perennial power hitters, her prowess at the net decided several points.

“When you go up, you see where the defenders are and where they’re moving,” Thiel said. “If they’re set, then going the opposite way of where they’re moving is always a play. We practice that quite a bit.”

Hawley lost one of its top players with a non-contact knee injury in the first set. After falling behind 2-0, unfamiliar faces and a different approach had the Yellowjackets on the ropes for the first time.

The Nuggets took an 8-4 lead before pulling away to a 25-16 set-three win.

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The Perham volleyball team celebrates a point in the first set of its 3-1 win over Hawley on Sept. 13, 2022 at The Hive.
Jared Rubado / Perham Focus

“They just came out differently, and we weren’t ready to adjust to that lineup,” Thiel said. “They didn’t have their best player. They kind of beat us with the new people that we didn’t have key things on. It just takes us coming together and lifting each other up when we’re playing bad.”

Amid the different personnel Hawley threw at Perham, the Yellowjackets’ biggest Achilles heel was the unforced error.

“When we’re trying to make those adjustments, we can’t make a ton of errors with them,” Morrison said. “That’s kind of what happened with that third set. They ran to that 6-2 with two setters, which really changed our defense. As we were trying to change our defense, we were just totally creating errors and not trusting ourselves”

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Perham took control in the fourth set with the help of Thiel. Her ace, followed by Burkman’s block, clinched the match with a 25-7 win.

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“Sometimes I feel that she underestimates herself and her potential,” Morrison said of Thiel. “That’s been a big challenge for us–continue to push her and get her to understand that she can take over a game. I feel, through the years, she’s gotten there with some growing left to do. It’s nice to have somebody to count on to put that ball away. I have a few others that have really stepped up as well that distract away from Willow. We have other attackers that can score as well.”

The win pushed the Yellowjackets to 6-4 on the season. It came after a week that featured a sweep against Frazee, getting swept by Detroit Lakes and a 2-3 showing at the Marshall tournament on Friday and Saturday.

Perham dropped its first two matches 2-0 against Lakeville North and Andover before taking down LeSueur-Henderson and Owatonna 2-1. Litchfield got the better of the Yellowjackets in the final game of the weekend by a score of 2-1.

Coming into a week of HOL Conference and section play, the focus was on taking care of business.

“Don’t underestimate Hawley–that was our biggest focus,” Morrison said. “We played them this summer. The big message was to not underestimate them because of what we saw this summer. We had the goal of coming in here and doing our job. We really broke down our strategy this time. We wanted to figure out how we could change our defense to make us consistent. I felt that was huge.”

Perham lost to Barnesville 3-2 last Thursday. The Yellowjackets host Park Rapids (1-4) and Breckenridge (7-2). Then, the Yellowjackets will hit the road for Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton (7-2) and Pelican Rapids (4-4) in the final week of September.

With only two teams over .500 left on the schedule, including a regular-season road finale at Pequot Lakes, the Yellowjackets have a chance to stack up wins.

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“The biggest thing for us is being consistent in our jobs and eliminating our errors,” Morrison said. “We played some tough competition when we went to the Marshall tournament. That really challenged us to figure out the areas we need to improve. When we come to practice, we have to keep improving. We also need to sharpen our strengths and fine-tune our game as well.”

PERHAM 3, HAWLEY 1

(25-14, 25-12, 16-25, 25-7)

Jared Rubado is the sports editor for the Detroit Lakes Tribune and the Perham Focus. He moved to the area in September of 2021 after covering sports for the Alexandria Echo Press for nearly three years. Jared graduated from the University of Augustana in 2018 with degrees in journalism and sports managment.
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