SECTION 3A VOLLEYBALL: Minneota rolls over Adrian in sweep, stamps ticket to state

Photo by Jenny Kirk Minneota’s Lydia Sussner (5) and Lizzy Gillingham (4) go up for a block during their Section 3A Championship match against Adrian Area on Saturday. The Vikings defeated the Dragons 3-0 to advance to the Class A tournament.

MARSHALL -The Minneota Vikings will take a 27-game winning streak into the state tournament after earning a sweep against Adrian in the Section 3A Championship match on Saturday at Southwest Minnesota State University.

No. 1 North seed Minneota (33-1 overall) struggled somewhat in the opening set, but once the team settled in, they couldn’t be stopped and won the match 25-16, 25-14, 25-17.

“It feels good to be going back to state,” Vikings outside hitter Lizzy Gillingham said. “It was a lot of fun (last year). It was a great experience. We remember that feeling and we have a bunch of seniors on the team. It’s our last year, so we just want to end with a bang.”

The Dragons, seeded second in the South half of the section, jumped out to an early 4-1 lead on a kill from Shawna Rogers. Propelled by kills from Lydia Sussner and Natalee Rolbiecki, the Vikings were able to knot the score at 5-5 on an Adrian hitting error. Minneota took its first lead on the following point after a Dragon setting error.

Kills from Morgan Hennen, Rolbiecki and Sydney Larson helped push the Viking lead to 11-7. After a trio of Adrian errors, Minneota collected three straight points, culminating with a kill from Sussner out of the middle to give the team a 17-8 edge.

“I think we had a lack of focus to start the match,” Minneota coach Hayley Fruin said. “We weren’t getting our feet to the ball. We were maybe just OK at times with Morgan Kockelman being three feet off the net. We have good enough passers in the back row that we know we’re better than that. We just needed to call a timeout and get it together, reel it in and start going.”

After an Adrian timeout, Minneota had a miscommunication error on the court. But the Vikings started clicking on all cylinders. As passers put the ball on target, Morgan Kockelman delivered precision sets to the team’s powerful hitters. The team earned all eight points on kills as Minneota won the set 25-16. Rolbiecki chipped in three kills during the stretch, while Sussner and Gillingham each had two and Larson had one.

“At the beginning, we didn’t come out ready to go, but then we finally got into it,” said Rolbiecki, a freshman outside hitter. “At state, we have to come out ready to go because teams are going to want to beat us.”

Minneota has had a target on its back, having been ranked No. 1 in Minnesota Class A for the entire season. But Rolbiecki said the team also knows what it’s like to be the underdog.

“The state tournament was just amazing,” she said. “It’s exciting to be going back. Last year (in the section finals), we upset Tracy-Milroy-Balaton. They were the No. 1 seed and we were coming in as underdogs. Nobody thought that we were going to win.”

Both teams traded several points to start the second set on Saturday before kills from Sussner and Larson gave the Vikings a 7-4 lead. An ace tip from Sussner pushed the team’s lead to 13-7, forcing the Dragons to take a timeout.

With Morgan Hennen serving well, Minneota continued to rally. A pair of kills from Sussner gave the team an 18-8 advantage. Gillingham then took over, collecting two kills and an ace block as the team rolled to a 23-11 lead.

Sussner and Rolbiecki pounded down kills to put the second set away at 25-14.

“I was so impressed with Natalee last year and she has improved so much since then,” Fruin said. “I’m thinking, ‘Oh, my gosh, Nat. What’s going to come next year?'”

Sussner led the team with 18 kills in the match, while Rolbiecki had 10, Gillingham nine and Larson eight.

“Sydney had a great night,” Fruin said. “I was very impressed with her (Saturday). She was mixing up her shots and finding the court.”

Sussner and Gillingham dominated the third set early on, combining for an ace block and six kills as the Vikings took a 10-2 lead. A right-side kill from Hennen stretched the lead to 14-4.

“Morgan Hennen also did a good job,” Fruin said. “She struggled in the front row on Thursday. I thought we did a great job attacking (Saturday).”

While Minneota continued to get offensive contributions from several hitters, the back row players also played solid defense. Libero Abby Hennen led the way with 28 digs, while Morgan Hennen had 12 and Gillingham 11.

A pair of kills from Larson helped the Vikings close out Set 3 with a score of 25-17.

“We just need to maintain our focus because when we go up to state, there’s going to be tough teams, so we need to be crisp on everything,” Gillingham said. “All our passes need to be on target, so we can speed (our offense) up.”

Kockelman finished the match with 51 set assists, two ace blocks and eight digs.

Minneota received the No. 1 seed at state and will take on New York Mills High School (30-2) at 1 p.m. Thursday at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

“No matter who is on the other side of the court, we just have to know that we need to play our tempo of volleyball every single night,” Fruin said. “As of (Saturday), there are only 16 teams in Class A left. And at the end of the night, there’s only eight. So we need to be happy about it, be proud of being up there no matter what the score is. We need to be pushing and be excited.”

Team winning Section 3A have historically done extremely well at the state volleyball venue. Fruin said the Vikings will enjoy the moment, soak it all in on Sunday, and then right back to work.

“We talked about it on Day 1 of practice, that if you want to get to state, it starts today (Aug. 13),” she said. “It doesn’t just happen when you get to the section finals. We have to work hard every single day. And these kids are so deserving. They work their tails off. It’s a rare group when you get 1-15 that all buy into their roles, but they all have.”

Minneota finished second at state last year.

“Our goal is to win state this year,” Gillingham said. “I think we can do it.”

Rolbiecki agreed.

“We’re ready to go,” she said.

Adrian 16 14 17

Minneota 25 25 25

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

Serve (comp-att-aces): Morgan Hennen 23-23-0, Abby Hennen 11-11-1, Lizzy Gillingham 9-9-0. Kills: Lydia Sussner 18, Natalee Rolbiecki 10, Gillingham 9, Sydney Larson 8, Morgan Hennen 6. Digs: Abby Hennen 28, Morgan Hennen 12, Gillingham 11, Morgan Kockelman 8. Set Assists: Kockelman 51. Blocks: Kockelman 2, Gillingham 1, Sussner 1, Rolbiecki 1.

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