SAINT PAUL ? All season long, the Marshall Tigers have had a plan, and they've worked that plan to near perfection. A win today would complete the dream.
While the Tigers suffered three losses during the season ?all to Class AAA schools ? the team is currently riding an 18-game winning streak. But better yet, the 2013 Marshall squad has the opportunity to make history by becoming the first team to win three straight Minnesota Class AA State Volleyball titles.
After earning sweeps against Mora on Thursday and Fergus Falls on Friday, the Tigers (31-3) will play Hill-Murray (29-4) for the Class AA State Championship at 3 p.m. today at the Xcel Energy Center.
Photo by Jenny Kirk
Marshall players celebrate after sweeping Fergus Falls during the semifinals of the MSHSL?Class 2A Volleyball State Tournament on Friday at the Xcel Center in St. Paul.
"I'm really excited to go to the ship (today)," Marshall middle hitter Callie Graff said. "We're really excited to make history and get the three-peat. We've been looking forward to this and practicing for it all season, and it's finally here. So we just want to come out really strong and just crush 'em."
The Tigers swept the Pioneers at the Lakeville North tournament on Oct. 4, but Marshall head coach Dan Westby expects to see a much-improved Hill-Murray team on the floor today.
"We beat them in two sets, but I think they've improved a lot since then and they've made some changes since then," he said. "The final four teams this year are extremely competitive, so I think it'll be a great final (today)."
The Tigers were not about to leave anything to chance and got right to work in the semifinal match against Fergus Falls (26-7) Friday. And while the Otters were able to collect two kills and an ace block en route to taking a 3-2 lead over Marshall in the first set, the Tigers would quickly rebound, taking a 4-3 on back-to-back kills from Kenzie Beekman.
Marshall would never trail in the match again.
"Fergus Falls came out with a lot of energy and we had kind of prepared our kids for that," Westby said. "We thought it would be a match where both teams were going to make great plays and that we just needed to weather the storm when Fergus Falls makes those plays. And our kids did. I thought we passed well, served well and defended well. Those are the three things we emphasized all season."
Sydney Griffin chipped in three kills, while Rachel Sanow and Beekman added an ace serve apiece to lead the Tigers to a 12-4 lead. Marshall continued to pick up momentum, controlling the tempo and rolling to a 25-15 win.
"I thought our kids really played hard," Westby said. "We made some defensive changes (Friday) and our kids just picked up on them and really made some great adjustments. I thought our kids really followed the game plan well. Fergus Falls is an outstanding team, so to come out and play like that, it's quite an effort by our kids."
Graff and Marah Mulso picked up where Beekman and Griffin left off, leading a 9-0 rally to give the Tigers a 16-5 advantage. Acting as one unit, the team continued to dominate both offensively and defensively, picking up the second set by a score of 25-14.
"We really wanted to come out, play and make a statement," Marshall senior libero Hannah Bennett said. "We just need to keep pushing through. We certainly like to use our experience, but we're all one big team and we all work together as one unit."
The Tigers were in top-notch form in the third set, quickly establishing a 4-0 lead. After giving up a point, Marshall then went on an 8-0 run, taking a 12-1 lead on a kill from Beekman, who collected 19 in the match. A kill from Griffin, an ace serve from Beekman, a block from Lexi Saugstad and a kill from Mulso gave the Tigers an 18-3 edge, at which point the team could taste the victory.
"Our biggest keys tonight were serving," Bennett said. "We served tough. We just have to keep the momentum up and keep going.We also played really well defensively. Our blockers did absolutely amazing. They were doing great up at the net and that's exactly what we needed. It was great."
Graff contributed two more kills, as did Beekman, to finish the sweep with a convincing 25-7 win over the Otters. Marshall finished the contest with 48 kills and a .395 hitting percentage, while Fergus Falls earned 19 kills and hit .065. The Tigers also earned 42 digs to the Otters' 28.
"Serving was a key for us because their middles are some of their best players," Graff said. "So then when we served tough, they had to throw it outside and we could get a block there."
Graff led the Tigers at the serving line, going 19-for-19 with two aces, while Bennett went 14-for-14 with two aces. Bennett also added seven digs, while Beekman had a team-high 10 digs.
Mulso chipped in a team-high four ace blocks in addition to five kills, while Griffin had three ace blocks and 10 kills. Rachel Sanow added 27 set assists and was 10-for-10 serving with an ace.
"We're feeling pretty good after that win, but we know that (today) is going to be really tough, too," Bennett said. "We have one step left. We hope to get the win."
MARSHALL INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS
Serving (good-att-aces): Callie Graff 19-19-2, Hannah Bennett 14-14-2, Rachel Sanow 10-10-1, Kenzie Beekman 15-17-2.
Kills: Beekman 19, Sydney Griffin 10, Graff 5, Marah Mulso 5.
Digs: Beekman 10, Griffin 9, Bennett 7, Stephanie Baker 7.
Set Assists: Sanow 27, Griffin 19.
Blocks: Mulso 4, Griffin 3, Lexi Saugstad 2.