By Travis Andries
GRANITE FALLS - With wins over second-seeded Gibbon-Fairfax-Winthrop and third-seeded Morris Area/Chokio-Alberta, Montevideo entered Friday night's 3AA-North sub-section volleyball final gunning for one more upset. Unfortunately for the sixth-seeded Thunder Hawks, the top-seeded and top-ranked Marshall Tigers had midnight in mind for the section's cinderella team.
Photo by Travis Andries
Marshall’s Emma Doyle hits over the block of a pair of Montevideo players during Thursday night’s Section 3AA-North final played at Yellow Medicine East High School in Granite Falls.
Behind 22 kills and seven ace blocks from Sydney Griffin, the Tigers swept Montevideo 25-15, 25-8 and 25-11.
The Tigers jumped out to an early 10-1 lead over Montevideo in the first set to extinguish any residual momentum the Thunder Hawks carried with them after defeating GFW on Tuesday.
"They're a team that's really had a lot of success lately, and one of the things that we felt was important was to come out early and put some pressure on them," Marshall head coach Dan Westby said. "I thought our kids did that. I thought Sydney Griffin did a nice job in the front row early. It kind of had them on their heels early. But I thought that was extremely important to come out and play well right away in the first set."
After that early run by Marshall, the Thunder Hawks took advantage of six errors by the Tigers to keep pace and bring the score to 16-9. The Tigers then outscored Montevideo 9-7 to take a 1-0 lead.
Set 2 was all Marshall, as the Tigers (25-5 overall) roared out to a 15-4 lead. A pair of kills from Griffin and Callie Graff, along with one from Emma Doyle, put the Tigers' lead at 20-7.
Montevideo setter Tori Kuhlmann caught the Tigers off guard with a tip for the Thunder Hawks' last point of the set. Following the tip, Griffin knocked down two more kills, then followed a net violation on Montevideo with two ace blocks. Griffin, traditionally the Tigers' starting setter, still managed to pick up 15 set assists in Marshall's 6-2 offense despite beginning the game as an outside hitter in place of Kenzie Beekman, who is nursing an ankle injury.
"If you look at our stat sheet for the year, she's kind of our Percy Harvin," Westby said of Griffin. "She's either at the top or second in every category. And tonight I thought she really elevated her game, especially at the net, as I mentioned, hitting. I thought she was really tough to stop at the net."
With Beekman out, several other Tigers were called upon to shoulder the load. Haley Bennett saw significant action in the back row, picking up 10 digs on the night and was 15 of 15 serving, while her sister Hannah, the Tigers' libero, had a team-high 22 digs. Middle hitter's Doyle and Graff each had five kills and Graff added three blocks, while senior outside hitter Angela Tauer had nine kills.
"I thought all of our kids stepped up," Westby said. "The other thing that I thought was a positive tonight was we got a lot of kids involved in terms of hitting. And I think that's going to help us down the road. I think a lot of our kids were able to gain some confidence tonight at the net."
During the third set, the Tigers found their big runs after taking a 10-6 lead. With Rachel Sanow serving, the Tigers went on a 7-0 run that was capped by Sanow's second ace of the night. The junior was 13-for-13 serving for the game with two aces, and also tallied 21 set assists to lead the Tigers.
Montevideo (11-13) tried to put together a late rally, cutting the Marshall lead to 19-11, but a service error gave the ball back to the Tigers. Tauer followed the error with three straight kills, while Graff added another and secured the Tigers' spot in the Section 3AA final on Saturday with an ace block.
The Tigers will face Jackson County Central, which defeated Windom 3-1 to claim the 3AA-South title, at 7:30 p.m. at the R/A Facility at Southwest Minnesota State University. The top-ranked Tigers and sixth-ranked Huskies will be meeting for the second time this season, as Marshall previously defeated its Southwest Conference rival 3-1 on Sept. 13.
"They're familiar with us, we're familiar with them," Westby said. "It will no doubt be a hard-fought match. But we're just excited that we are in the section final again."
Montevideo15 8 11
Marshall25 25 25
MARSHALL INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS
Serving (good-att-aces): Haley Bennett 15-15-0, Rachel Sanow 13-13-2.
Kills: Sydney Griffin 22, Angel Tauer 9, Callie Graff 5, Emma Doyle 5.
Digs: Hannah Bennett 22, Haley Bennett 10.
Set Assists: Sanow 21, Griffin 15.
Blocks: Griffin 7, Graff 3.