‘It’s a business trip, not a vacation’

Tigers sweep Scarlets for sixth consecutive state tournament berth

Photos by Amy Gillingham: Marshall volleyball players Brooke Gillingham (front), Brielle Riess (left) and Kennedy Drake (right) react after a point during the top-seeded Tigers’ Section 2AAA Championship win over No. 2 Mankato West at Redwood Valley High School on Wednesday night.

REDWOOD FALLS — The Mankato West Scarlets hadn’t won a single set against the Marshall volleyball team since 2001 heading into Wednesday night’s 2AAA section championship. That didn’t change as the top-seeded Tigers took down the Scarlets in straight sets to advance to their sixth consecutive state tournament.

“Being the one seed and having had the regular season we’ve had, we should come in with some confidence and be ready to go,” Marshall head coach Dan Westby said. “It just felt like everything was tough to get in that first set. Mankato West has been playing well lately, so I’m sure they came into this thing thinking, ‘Let’s just keep doing what we’re doing,’ and they were able to carry play. Like I said, it was really difficult to get a whole lot going.”

Mankato West gave the Tigers problems early in the first set by jumping out to a 3-0 lead before a hit by Brooke Gillingham gave the Tigers their first point of the match. The Tigers allowed one more point for the Scarlets before a Mackenzie Olsen block gave Marshall its first lead of the game and a pair of service aces from Brielle Riess had the Tigers on top, 7-4. 

Reese Drake got off to a hot start to help the Tigers take the first set. She had a team-high six kills in the first set and finished the night with 11.

“I think that behind the service line, we really put a lot of pressure on them, which really helped us get our offense at a faster pace to allow Brooke to get us a good, hittable ball,” Drake said.  

Mankato West called its second timeout of the set trailing 23-16 but couldn’t stop the Marshall momentum. Avery Fahl got a kill and combined for a block with Gillingham to claim the first set for the Tigers, 25-16.

“I just felt like that first set was kind of a grind all the way through and our kids found a way,” Westby said. “I thought all three of our sophomores [Drake, Gillingham and Fahl] really carried play well tonight… Each point was highly contested at that point and we just felt like we didn’t have a lot of rhythm early on.”

The Marshall volleyball players and managers pose for a photo after receiving their Section 2AAA Championship plaque and medals.

Like the first set, the Scarlets scored the first point of the second on a Marshall hitting error. The lead didn’t last long; a Mankato West hitting error and kills from Riess and Olsen put Marshall right back in the driver’s seat. Riess was responsible for three kills that helped Marshall build a 5-1 lead and finished with a total of seven in the set. She led the team with 15 kills in the match after being held to three in the first frame.

“Just noticing what their defense does, learning from errors and mistakes that I’ve made and then just working with the team as we gained momentum,” Riess said of her increased efficiency as the match progressed.

Still, the Scarlets didn’t back down. They went on a 5-1 run of their own to tie the match right back up before kills from Morgan Bjella and Reese Drake helped Marshall quickly regain the lead.

The Tigers’ lead quickly ballooned to 19-9 before Mankato West called its first timeout. Once again, Marshall’s momentum was unstoppable as they closed the set on a 6-2 run to win 25-11.

Libero Kennedy Drake once again led the Marshall backline with 20 digs. She was also 12-of-12 at the service line, making her one of three Tigers with a perfect service night alongside Reese Drake (13-of-13) and Jayda Bednarek (11-of-11).

Bednarek, Gillingham, and Riess also each contributed 12 digs defensively for the Tigers while Gillingham also added 32 set assists.

Riess started the third set on fire with three kills in the first four Marshall points — Fahl being responsible for the other — to help Marshall jump out to a 4-1 lead. Yet again, Mankato West responded with a 3-0 run to tie up the game at 4-4.

The set didn’t remain tied for long. Bjella had a kill and a block while Reese Drake had a kill to quickly give the Tigers 8-5. The lead only continued to expand until Riess’ third service ace of the match forced the Scarlets to call timeout with Marshall leading 18-11.

“In practice, we knew that their outside hitter was going to be good, so we worked a lot on that and we were just ready to do it,” Bjella said of the Tigers’ effective blocking on the night.

Unfazed, Marshall grew its lead to nine points, 23-14, when Mankato West called its final timeout with its season on the line. Still, a Scarlets hitting error and a Reese Drake kill ended the match on a 25-14 Tiger win. 

With the win, Marshall advances to its sixth consecutive state championship. The last time the Tigers lost a match in the section championship was in 2016 when they fell 3-0 to Prior Lake, who now completes in Class AAAA. 

“We just have to take it game-by-game, one at a time, and really focus on the first game and keep it rolling,” Reese Drake said. 

Members of the Marshall volleyball team celebrate the Tigers scoring the final point of the team’s 3-0 sweep over Mankato West on Wednesday night at Redwood Valley High School.

Marshall still has plenty of parts of its game to clean up ahead of the state tournament, Westby said, but that they’ll look to clean up any errors in the week they have before heading off to states.

“It’s a business trip when we go down there, it’s not a vacation,” Westby said. “We need to get down there and get ourselves ready to go for that first match. We’ll take it one at a time from here on.”


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