LAND O’ LAKES – It took five sets of volleyball Tuesday to decide who would face number one seed Sunlake in Thursday’s FHSAA 7A, District 8 final. The Mitchell Mustangs squeezed by Land O’ Lakes 3 sets to 2 (23-25, 25-19, 16-25, 25-15, 15-9) to earn that spot in the finale.

Land O’ Lakes (14-12) nearly pulled off the victory without a pair of starters. Junior defensive leader, libero Abbie Hindersman, was sidelined by a concussion suffered last week and freshman middle blocker standout Kaitlyn Klemm, who also has 71 kills for the Gators, has also been a spectator for three weeks with an arm injury.

After exchanging games in the opening two sets (26-23, 19-25) the Gators took over the third on a point that they actually lost! Two outstanding digs by senior DS Haylee Fernandez and Shayna Heymann, ignited Land O’ Lakes even though the Mustangs won the point to tie the game at 6-6. The Gators won the next three points and Mitchell never got closer than within two to take the third set 25-16 for the Gators.

Now down two sets to one, the Mustangs needed a spark to get back in the match. Elizabeth McDonald, who didn’t have a great start in set one, was re-inserted in the middle in the fourth set. Mitchell’s other big change was putting Karsten Mohr at libero. Mohr responded with seven digs in a fourth set, that saw Mitchell hold a three-to four-point lead throughout before pulling away with a 10-4 finish. A Deluca block started the run, along with a diving play that turned into a kill for Mohr that sparked it further.

Kendall McCain, one of three freshman starters for Mitchell, put the match away in the fifth with her seventh kill. Mitchell jumped ahead 4-0 in the final set and never relinquished the lead. The closest the Gators would come would be 10-8, eventually falling to Mitchell 15-9 in the final set.

The Mustangs now take on their perennial rival number one Sunlake Thursday night in the Swamp at Land O’ Lakes. The two teams split the season series, both winning on their home courts. Now with the District championship on the line on a neutral court in the Swamp the FHSAA 7A, District 8 Final sets up to be a barn-burner.