TRACY - Tuesday night featured not just a showdown between the two top volleyball teams in the Camden Conference, but also a rematch of 2011's Section 3A championship match.
Tuesday night, however, saw the Minneota Vikings defeat the Tracy-Milroy-Balaton Panthers via a more precarious route.
Whereas the last time the Vikings and Panthers met, Minneota cruised to a 3-0 win to earn its third consecutive state tournament berth, the Vikings had to battle back on the road on Tuesday after dropping the first set to pick up a hard -ought 3-1 win - 23-25, 25-19, 25-12, 25-23.
Photo by Travis Andries
Minneota’s Hanna Prellwitz, left, and Molly Hennen, right, rise up to attempt to block a tip by Tracy-Milroy-Balaton’s Kelli Soupir in a Camden Conference match played Tuesday in Tracy.
The Panthers opened up to an 11-6 lead in the first set, tipping often to keep Minneota off balance.
"We knew they kind of fell back on defense, so we thought we'd soften the court up a little bit and start tipping," TMB head coach Katie Gervais said. "Then I thought our girls did a nice job of coming back and hitting and mixing it up. You kind of have to take what you can get at times and that's what we could get."
Minneota head coach Steph Hennen said that although her team knew that the Panthers were going to tip, the Vikings failed to recognize it while on the floor.
"We've been talking about it," Hennen said. "We said cover the tips. It's like they didn't believe us."
Minneota rallied to take a 12-11 lead before pulling ahead 17-15. But the Panthers regrouped and started serving more aggressively to induce six Minneota errors over TMB's final nine points.
"I thought we served aggressive, being able to keep them out of some kind of hitting rhythm. That's what helped us the first set," Gervais said. "I think we just kind of spread the wealth and went after seams and people who were struggling at that time."
For the Vikings, however, the powerful Panther opening set was more a result of low energy than a lack of execution.
"I just think we came out flat," Hennen said. "We didn't talk much at the beginning, but that changed as the match went on."
After being challenged by Hennen to play their best, the Vikings ripped off the next three sets to extend several winning streaks. By beating TMB on Tuesday, the Vikings have now won 13 straight matches, 22 consecutive matches against Camden Conference teams, and have 13 victories in a row against Class A competition.
The Vikings got their rally started by pulling out to a 15-10 lead in the second set thanks to six of Taylor Reiss' match-high 21 kills, including five in a row. Reiss picked up two more kills in the set as Minneota evened the match with a 25-19 win.
Set 3 was all Minneota, as the Vikings jumped out to a 9-1 lead with help from Faith Laleman, who recorded three of her five ace serves in the opening moments. TMB cut the Viking lead to 9-5, but got no closer as Minneota outscored the Panthers 16-7 en route to a 25-12 win.
If the third set was all Minneota, then Set 4 appeared to be all Panthers at first. Relying on effective hitting and blocking from Sammie Gervais and Jenna Stoneberg, the Panthers roared out to an early 15-5 lead. Stoneberg had 10 kills and three ace blocks, while Gervais led the Panthers with 13 kills.
But the Vikings didn't become the third-ranked team in Class A on name alone. The comeback began on desperation hit from Molly Hennen that found the floor. Though innocent at first, it sparked a 20-8 run for the Vikings that culminated with the win.
"We felt like we had them on the ropes," Katie Gervais said. "They had that look that we had in Game 3, and I think we got a little passive. We forgot that what got us there was being aggressive and we started tipping a little bit, just not finishing plays as well."
Minneota chipped away at the TMB lead slowly, closing the gap to five points at 15-10, then three at 18-15. The Panthers brought the score to 20-15, but Hennen and Hanna Prellwitz took over for the Vikings.
Prellwitz had three of her eight kills and two of her team-leading three ace blocks during Minneota's final 10-3 run, including two kills and a block to help tie the set at 20.
"Hanna had a nice night," Steph Hennen said. "She's really hard to read. She's got long arms and she's a little slower on the block, but Hanna's got such long arms that she can make up for that. And when she hits it's very deceiving."
Molly Hennen had five of her 17 kills during the run, including the match's final point. She also had 15 digs for the Vikings.
Minneota setter Megan Larson, who picked up her 500th set assist of the season again MACCRAY last Thursday, had 50 against TMB. Her counterpart, Cassie Hook, had 26 set assists in defeat.
The Panther's fall to 9-9 on the season with the loss (6-2 Camden ), while the Vikings improve to 19-2 (9-0 Camden). TMB is home again on Thursday when the Panthers host Renville County West. Minneota is off until next Tuesday when the Vikings will travel to Dawson for a conference matchup with the Blackjacks.
Minneota23 25 25 25
TMB25 19 12 23
MINNEOTA INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS
Serving (good-att-aces): Faith Laleman 23-24-5, Megan Larson 17-17-1, Shelby Corbin 17-17-1, Molly Hennen 14-15-1.
Kills: Taylor Reiss 21, Hennen 17, Corbin 8, Hanna Prellwitz 8.
Digs: Corbin 16, Hennen 15, Payton Boerboom 14.
Set Assists: Larson 50.
Blocks: Prellwitz 3, Hennen 1, Reiss 1, Larson 1.
TMB INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS
Serving (good-att-aces): Anna Peterson 15-15-1, Sammie Gervais 11-12-1, Cassie Hook 9-9-1, Kassidy Przymus 5-6-2.
Kills: Gervais 13, Jenna Stoneberg 10.
Digs: Kelli Soupir 13, Peterson 12.
Set Assists: Hook 26.
Blocks: Stoneberg 3.