ST. PAUL Serving. Passing. Defense.
Those are the foundations of Marshall Tiger volleyball according to head coach Dan Westby, and each was integral in the Tigers' dominating sweep of the Mora Mustangs 25-11, 25-9, 25-10 during the quarterfinals of the Class AA state volleyball tournament at the Xcel Energy Center on Thursday.
"One thing we talked about before the match was we felt like we needed to focus on three things tonight: serving, passing and defense," Westby said. "We feel like that's what we've kind of built this thing on, and those are three things that we really wanted our kids to be mindful of tonight."
Photo by Travis Andries
Marshall’s Maci Louwagie, left, celebrates with her teammates after the Tigers won a point against the Mora Mustangs in Thursday’s Class AA volleyball quarterfinal at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Louwagie had four kills for the Tigers, who had a .486 hitting percentage compared to a -.026 hitting percentage for Mora.
The serving part was established early and often by the Tigers. Senior Angela Tauer jump-served Marshall out to an early 5-0 lead. Following a kill by standout Mora middle hitter Noelle Elvehjem, Rachel Sanow led the Tigers to five more points from the service line for a quick 10-1 lead. Back-to-back aces from Sydney Griffin later in the set gave Marshall a 19-5 lead over the Mustangs.
Aggressive serving has been a hallmark of the Tigers all season, and on Thursday they used it to set the tone of the match, but also to prevent Mora's strong hitters from finding a rhythm.
"We just tried to put some pressure on them serving and hitting-wise," Westby said. "We just told our kids that it doesn't have to be great pressure, it's just got to be good pressure."
Mora 11 9 10
Marshall 25 25 25
Serving (aces): Mora-Brooke Elvehjem, Kristen Eustice, Taylor Sundsvold; Marshall-Sydney Griffin 3, Angela Tauer 3, Kenzie Beekman, Maci Louwagie, Rachel Sanow.
Kills: Mora-Stephanie Cannon 6; Marshall-Beekman 10, Griffin 9, Tauer 7, Callie Graff 6, Emma Doyle 4, Louwagie 4.
Digs: Mora-Cannon 5; Marshall-Hannah Bennett 10, Beekman 7.
Set Assists: Mora-Eustice 8; Marshall-Griffin 19, Sanow 11.
Blocks (solo-assist): Mora-Elvehjem 0-1, Cannon 0-1, Eustice 0-1, Rachel Anderson 0-1; Marshall-Tauer 1-1, Graff 0-1.
During Set 2, Tauer used two of her three ace serves on the night to give the Tigers a 7-1 lead. Hannah Bennett would serve during a 6-0 Tiger run later in the set to bring Marshall's lead to 16-4.
"I think we just want to serve tough," Tauer said of her team's thought process at the service line. "Serve between people and make them talk more."
Tauer also led the Tigers in blocks, with 1 1/2, while finishing a close third in attacking. Her seven kills trailed Kenzie Beekman (10) and Griffin (9). Callie Graff had six kills for the Tigers, while Emma Doyle and Maci Louwagie had four each, demonstrating their passing proficiency on the night. Griffin led Marshall with 19 set assists, while Sanow had 11.
"I think our team has come together well and we've all just been playing well together. It's been fun," Tauer said.
Following Bennett's serving run, the Tigers committed three errors, allowing the Mustangs to cut into their substantial lead. Marshall (27-5 overall), however, would close out the set on a 9-2 run to take a two sets to none lead.
The serving star of Set 3 was Maci Louwagie. The Tigers led Mora 10-6 before Louwagie guided Marshall to 11 straight points. She had just one ace on the night, during the run, while four Tigers recorded kills in blowing the third set wide open.
For Louwagie and Tauer, Marshall's quarterfinal victory, though worth celebrating, also brings their high school careers one step closer to the end for the seniors.
"Knowing that we only have two or three games left, we just want to play hard," Louwagie said.
The next match for Marshall will be the Clash of the Tigers, as they face fourth-seeded Belle Plaine at 5 p.m. today. Those Tigers advanced to the semifinals with a 3-0 victory over fifth-seeded Thief River Falls.
"They play a lot faster, so we are going to have to come out and play our best," Tauer said.
Louwagie said Marshall will need to improve on its performance from Thursday if it is going to keep its Class AA title defense afloat.
"We are going to have to play a lot better than we did tonight," she said.
Westby explained, "Going into the match, one of the concerns we had was we felt that Mora was a good serving team. I thought they really served tough. And then I thought they really had some kids that went up and swung hard. We felt, early on in that match, that they were playing without fear. And we didn't block very well tonight. That was a disappointment. But certainly we need to block better tomorrow."
Regardless of their blocking struggles, the Tigers still had a strong night defensively. The Tigers picked up 40 digs as a team, led by Bennett's 10, and held the Mustangs to a -.026 hitting percentage. Conversely, the Tigers hit .486 for the match, including .682 in the final set.