ST. PAUL - With a 3-1 victory over Caledonia in the Class AA state championship Saturday at the Xcel Energy Center, the Marshall Tiger volleyball team added a new accomplishment to its already sterling reputation - repeat champions.
Though they were competing for their fifth title in six years, the Tigers had not previously defended a state title. That all changed when Caledonia middle hitter Emma Lange was called for a violation to put the finishing touches on the Tigers' 17-25, 25-15, 26-24, 25-17 victory and second consecutive championship.
The Tigers and Warriors had previously played one another at the Lakeville North tournament on Oct. 6, with Marshall winning 2-0. But after seeing Caledonia play two games at the state tournament, Marshall head coach Dan Westby was convinced that the Warriors the Tigers played on Saturday were a different group than the team his Tigers had defeated a month earlier.
Photo by Travis Andries
The Marshall Tigers volleyball team celebrates after winning a point during Saturday’s Class AA volleyball state tournament championship match at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
"A couple of things that stick out are the fact that it's really obvious that they have two kids that they really rely on," Westby said. "But the other thing that I think makes them such a good team this late in the season is the fact that their other kids don't have a problem with that. Their other kids have all accepted their roles and they're all OK with the fact that those two are going to get a lot of the attention. And I think their other kids have all improved."
The dynamic duo for Caledonia was a pair of 6-foot senior middle hitters in Emma Lange and Maria Fruechte. Fruechte would lead all attackers in the match with 24 kills, including six in the opening set.
"We got smacked around pretty good that first set, and she's a major reason why," Westby said of Fruechte. "She was elevating, she was getting above our block, and there really wasn't a whole lot that we could do about it."
Caledonia25 15 24 17
Marshall17 25 26 25
Serving (good-att-aces): C-Emma Lange 22-24-5, Maddy Mullins 13-13-0; M-Angela Tauer 34-35-4, Hannah Bennett 16-16-0, Maci Louwagie 12-12-1.
Kills: C-Maria Fruechte 24, Lange 13; M-Kenzie Beekman 22, Sydney Griffin 14, Tauer 11.
Digs: C-Lauren Rusert 13, Lange 12, Taylor Winjum 11; M-Bennett 17, Beekman 14, Steph Baker 10.
Set Assists: C-Winjum 38; M-Griffin 26, Rachel Sanow 19.
Blocks (solo-assist): C-Fruechte 0-5; M-Callie Graff 0-5, Emma Doyle 0-3, Griffin 1-0, Beekman 0-2.
Caledonia leapt out to an 8-4 lead in Set 1, but the Tigers used a 7-1 run to briefly take an 11-9 lead. Its brevity was due to a closing 16-6 scoring disparity in favor the Warriors. Four of Fruechte's six kills in the set were part of the Caledonia barrage.
Between the first and second sets, Westby talked to his players about returning their focus to serving and passing. The effort paid dividends, as Marshall would rally to win the next three sets.
"We just felt like we needed to play a lot harder and it needed to start with the serve," Westby. "We needed to put more pressure on them and we felt like if we did that those kids wouldn't get as many quality swings. The other thing is we just didn't pass real well that first set. I think we pulled out of it, I think both Hannah (Bennett) and Steph (Baker) passed much better after that first set."
Relying on strong serving from their two seniors, Maci Louwagie and Angela Tauer, the Tigers broke out to a 6-2 lead to begin the comeback. The Warriors rallied, capping off a 9-6 swing with a four-point run. One of Kenzie Beekman's team-high 22 kills off of one of Sydney Griffin's team-high 26 set assists halted the Warriors momentum and returned the ball to Marshall.
From there, Tauer served the Tigers to seven straight points bookended by kills from Beekman to take a 20-11 lead. Beekman and Griffin would both add a pair of kills to bring Marshall to set point, while Tauer finished the set with one of her 11 kills for the match.
"I think all three of those players really stepped up and scored for us when we needed it," Westby said. "There were times when Caledonia made some runs and those kids came up with some big swings to end those runs."
Tauer, especially, had a excellent game against the Warriors. She knocked down 11 kills, while compiling four aces on 34 of 35 serving.
"I thought Angela had a great tournament," Westby said. "Not to take anything away from any of the kids that made the All-Tournament team, but she certainly could have been on that team and nobody could argue that. In addition, I think in our match Saturday in the finals, there were a couple of times that we needed a kill and we went to Angela and she delivered. I mean there were a couple crucial times where we got stuck in rotation and we set her the ball and she ended the play."
Tauer concluded the tournament with 24 kills and had 12 aces on 71-for-74 serving. Although she wasn't named to the All-Tournament team, three Tigers were as Beekman, Griffin, and Bennett added individual awards to their team's higher honor.
Bennett led the Tigers with 49 digs, while Beekman had 59 kills to go along with 33 digs. Griffin was second on the team with 37 kills, while leading the Tigers with 65 set assists.
Set 3 saw the Tigers pick up where they left off in Set 2, using kills from Tauer and Beekman to establish a 4-0 lead. Kills from Griffin and Louwagie would extended that lead to 8-5 before Caledonia struck back. The Warriors used a 7-2 run to move past Marshall.
The Tigers would regain the lead on the first of back-to-back aces by Tauer, part of a 5-0 run.
"I think the end of the that third set really could have gone either way, but Angela went back there and served," Westby said. "They weren't able to get a good swing and we did, and I think that really was the difference in that match."
Three kills from Caledonia tied the set at 15, but Beekman found the floor to put the Tigers back out in front, where they would remain until Caledonia tied the set a 23.
Maddy Mullins followed a kill by Beekman to tie the match at 24, but the Tigers would emerge take a 2-1 lead in sets after Beekman's sixth kill of the set and a service ace by Rachel Sanow.
The final set saw Marshall take a 6-1 lead early, capped by Tauer's last ace. Caledonia, playing in its first-ever state tournament, refused to go away quietly, as the Warriors tied the set on four separate occasions.
Kills by Griffin returned the lead to Marshall on three occasions, while her last kill started a title deciding 6-0 run to give the Tigers a 20-14 lead. Beekman added three more kills, but it was consecutive errors by Lange that ultimately clinched the championship match for the Tigers.
"I think this group really got to the point where they really trusted each other and they really wanted to play hard for each other," Westby said. "It got to be where they didn't care who got the credit, they just wanted the team to do well."
The Tigers certainly did well in 2012, earning the school's fifth state title, amassing a 29-5 record while carrying the top-ranking in Class AA from start to finish.