FAIRMONT - Class AA defending state volleyball champion Marshall lost three all-state tournament selections - Sydney Griffin, Kenzie Beekman and Hannah Bennett - to graduation.
The No. 1-ranked Tigers, however, looked in total synchronization Tuesday night as 5-foot-10 middle hitter Callie Graff pounded a match-best 15 kills to complement five blocks in pacing a 25-8, 25-12, 25-10 Big South Conference sweep over the Fairmont Cardinals at Cardinal Gym.
"Our goal was to reach double digits in each game, and we accomplished that in the last two," said first-year Fairmont head coach Haley Loerts. "We didn't let them pull away from us like last year.
Photo Courtesy of Leanna Becker/Fairmont Sentinel
Marshall's Lexi Saugstad digs up a Fairmont spike during Big South Conference volleyball action Tuesday night at Cardinal Gym in Fairmont.
"The hustle and the communication was there tonight, so that was good to see."
The Tigers swept the Cardinals, 25-1, 25-0, 25-5, during their 2013 regular-season match in Marshall.
"I think Fairmont is a team in transition right now. They played with a lot of energy tonight," said Marshall mentor Dan Westby. "Before the match, we talked about taking care of the ball, and I thought we did that by controlling the tempo.
"We also did a nice job of serving aggressively tonight."
Ironically, Graff, who converted one of setter Abby Louwagie's match-best 19 assists into an early sideout kill, then displayed her backrow prowess by stringing together a five-point service run - including three of the Tigers' 13 aces on the match - to build a 7-1 edge in Game 1.
Lexi Saugstad and Graff then exchanged frontline firepower with the Cardinals' Courtney Mosloski and Sydney Glienke to maintain Marshall's eight-point margin before Graff unleashed a stinging sideout blast off one of Emily Buysse's dozen set assists.
Louwagie then returned to the hardwood court to assemble a three-point service stint to create an 18-6 lead for the orange-and-black attack.
Glienke answered with one of her team-best four kills off one of Emily Kim's eight set assists, but the sideout proved temporary.
An errant Cardinal serve placed the volleyball back into leadoff server Haley Bennett's capable hands and the 5-8 senior reeled off six straight points to push the Tigers to the brink of an opening victory at 24-7.
Graff followed a Marshall hitting error with a scorched slide kill off a perfect loft from Louwagie to end Game 1 at 25-8.
Bennett, who topped the Tigers with a 15-for-16 service performance, delivered four of her match-best 11 points to stake the visitors to an early 7-1 edge in Game 2.
Glienke's cross-court spike-winner halted Marshall's run as the teams battled to 20-12 before middle hitter Marah Mulso delivered the pivotal ace tip for a Tigers' sideout.
Buysse then reeled off four unanswered points from the line as Lexi Saugstad recorded one of her three blocks and drilled one of her seven kills to close out the 25-12 Game 2 victory.
Tieryn Arens and Glienke delivered solid frontrow play to keep the Cardinals within 11-6 in Game 3 before Mulso literally struck again with a down-the-line sideout kill off a Buysse set assist.
Marshall libero Gabby Hess then assembled a six-point service run to extend the lead to 17-6 before Westby subbed Meg Ellis into Hess' spot at the line to tack on another point.
Katelynn Noah and Arens supplied blocks for the Cardinals down the stretch, but Graff would have the final word in crushing a sliding kill off a Louwagie set to rotate Morgan Saugstad to the line.
Morgan Saugstad delivered five consecutive points to close out the 24-10 Game 3 decision and match sweep for the Tigers.
Marshall (2-1, 1-0 Big South) travels to Luverne on Thursday night for its fourth consecutive road match against a fourth straight opponent nicknamed the Cardinals.
Fairmont (0-2, 0-1) plays host to St. Peter on Thursday night.