CLASS AA VOLLEYBALL: Marshall prepared for second consecutive trip to state

Independent file photo Marshall’s Rachel Schwarz (15) sets the ball during their Section 3AA Championship match against Morris Area/Chokio-Alberta on Saturday. The Tigers will start their state tournament play today against Park Rapids Area.

MARSHALL – Last season, the Marshall volleyball team made their return to the Class AA Tournament after a two-year hiatus, where the Tigers earned a fourth-place finish.

This time around, Marshall hopes to improve on that mark and coach Dan Westby is happy his team has another opportunity to finish their season at the state tournament.

“Your goal is to finish at the state tournament and we’re just happy for our kids that we get the opportunity to end it there and hopefully we’ll go down there and make a good showing,” Westby said. “We’re excited about the fact that we get to end our season at the state tournament.”

Marshall enters the tournament as the No. 3 seed with a 27-5 record and is coming off a decisive sweep over Morris Area/Chokio-Alberta in the Section 3AA Championship on Saturday.

“It feels great,” senior outside hitter Erica Jones said. “I think all of our hard work is starting to pay off and it’s great to see that, so I think we’re all really excited to be going back.”

The Tigers will face Park Rapids Area in their opening round game. The Panthers enter the tournament as a random draw with a 24-6 record after defeating Roseau 3-0 in the Section 8AA Championship.

“They’ve got some size and some kids that can put a good swing on the ball, so we’re going to have to deal with some things and we’re going to have to play some defense,” Westby said.

While the Panthers will rely on a couple of players to lead them offensively, Marshall possesses more of a balanced attack. The Tigers are led by a mix of young talent and veteran leaders, including Jones, Jordyn Hilgemann, Logan Sherman and Rachel Schwarz.

Hilgemann said their main focus in practice to prepare is on fundamentals such as serving aggressively or their ability to pass the ball.

“We always like to focus on fundamentals; we want to have our first contact be better than the other teams so we want to serve well and pass well,” Hilgemann said. “I think when we do both of those things it helps us play better.”

This year’s trip is also the 28th time Marshall has reached the state tournament, which is a state record.

Going into the tournament, Westby said they just need to continue to do what they’ve done all season, which is taking things one match at a time.

“We’ve kind of all season long taken things one match at a time and we’re going to do that again at the state tournament,” Westby said. “We just really need to focus on Park Rapids now and maybe take a peek at some of the other teams as we go but for today we’re just trying to take care of business in that first match.”

Hilgemann added instead of just being happy to make the tournament, they’re focused on making a significant impact throughout each round and playing with energy.

“We have a goal of instead of just of going and being satisfied with making the tournament, we want to go and make an impact and want to win,” Hilgemann said. “So we’re going to be on top of our game and hopefully we’ll be playing fast and together and we’re going to have a lot of energy.”

Today’s quarterfinal game begins at 7 p.m. Jones said they’re looking forward to the atmosphere of being at the highest level of prep volleyball and are ready to play against the best teams in the state.

“I think we’re excited for the atmosphere to be up there and we’re excited to get another level of competition,” Jones said. “We’re going to be able to play a lot of teams that we haven’t seen before so it’ll be fun to get to play a new variety of teams.”

With last year’s experience at state under their belts, Jones and the Tigers expect to come in with much more confidence this time around.

“Last year was our first year of making state in a few years so we were all kind of nervous,” Jones said. “This year we’re going back and we have the jitters out of the way and we can just focus on being able to accomplish our goal of winning the state tournament.”