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Manhattan Christian players celebrate after beating Gardiner in the District 11C championship match Friday.

CHURCHILL — Following a thrilling rally in Friday’s undefeated semifinal, Manhattan Christian’s players had little doubt about who they’d be facing in the district championship match.

And, as expected, Gardiner wasted little time dispatching Lone Peak in the consolation match of the District 5B tournament to set up the rematch. But, in their third contest of the day, the Bruins weren’t quite efficient.

The Eagles (17-1) lost to Gardiner in the undefeated semifinal in each of the past two years and then again in the championship. But after rallying to beat the Bruins 25-13, 20-25, 13-25, 25-15, 15-12 to begin the day, Christian dominated in the finale to the tune of 25-9, 25-23, 25-16.

“We watched them play Lone Peak, and we could tell they were getting a little tired. Their serves didn’t quite have the zing, and they weren’t hitting quite as much. Just a little bit slower,” Christian head coach Jill Ayers said. “We know how it goes, we’ve been there in that spot coming through that loser bracket like they were today.”

It’s the first district title for the Eagles since 2011, and the victory snapped Gardiner’s string of seven consecutive district championships.

“It’s super exciting because we have been focusing on it a long time. I don’t know how many Gardiner’s had, like seven or something, so that was our main goal for the season,” Eagles co-captain and setter Taylor DeVries said. “Now we can look for the divisional championship.”

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Manhattan Christian's Taylor DeVries (1) and Eliana Kuperus (9) put up a block on Gardiner's Josie Thomas on Friday.

Christian is the defending Western C Divisional champion and hosts the tournament beginning Nov. 6 in the Memorial Event Center.

The Eagles have battled more than their share of adversity with numerous lineup changes due to injuries throughout the season. But the team is finally intact in the postseason. It showed with a balanced attack.

Kiersten Van Kirk tallied a team-high 14 kills in the semifinal, while Eliana Kuperus had a match-high 11 in the championship. The Eagles also received key front row contributions from Hailey VanDyken and Rylie Thompson.

“I think finally we found the combination of players that we needed to find in time for tournaments. They just kind of showed up and did their job,” Ayers said. “I think we finally found them.”

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Manhattan Christian's Kiersten Van Kirk scores on a kill Friday in the district championship match against Gardiner.

After cruising to victory in the first set of the semifinal, the Eagles experienced their only struggles of the day over the next two. But they regrouped in the fourth, and DeVries noted a determined effort led to victory in the fifth set.

“The sets that we lost, I think we got pretty down on ourselves and we had a lot of mistakes. The fifth set we really just buckled in, and we focused on not having any serving errors,” she said. “Our defense was really good, serve-receive was very good, and our hitters were just putting it down. We just worked really hard in that set.”

Christian established the tone early in the championship match, jumping out to a 7-1 lead in the opening set. DeVries later capped the game with a long serving run featuring a pair of aces.

The second set was tied at 20, 21, 22 and 23 before the Eagles prevailed, and then Christian took a 14-4 lead in the third set en route to victory.

DeVries dished out 29 assists and had four of the team’s seven aces in the championship, while Maddie Liudahl chipped in 20 digs.

“Taylor just did a great job of dishing it out. Multiple offensive attacks that we had going on today,” Ayers said. “So good day. It was fun.”

Josie Thomas led Gardiner (14-5) with seven kills and a pair of aces after she tallied a match-high 15 kills in the semifinal.

Colton Pool can be reached at or 406-582-2690. Follow him on Twitter @CPoolReporter.