MARSHALL - With anticipation and energy boiling over inside the R/A Facility for Saturday night's Section 3AA title match between Marshall and Jackson County Central, the Tigers cooly claimed control of momentum early on and rolled to a sweep of the Huskies to capture their 12th straight state tournament appearance.
The top-ranked Tigers jumped out to quick leads in both the first and second sets and made winning look easy against the sixth-ranked Huskies, then battled back from an early deficit in the third set to cap off a 25-17, 25-18, 25-21 win.
Concerned with how his team would respond to a strong JCC team early in the match after having breezed past three teams with losing records during the 3AA-North tournament, Marshall head coach Dan Westby said his players couldn't have handled themselves much better than they did in the opening sets.
Photo by Matt Dahlseid
From left to right, Marshall’s Hannah Bennett, Sydney Griffin and Angela Tauer celebrate following match point in the Tigers’ sweep of Jackson Country Central Saturday night at the R/A Facility at Southwest Minnesota State University. Marshall qualified for its 12th consecutive state tournament with the win.
"I thought our kids were very business-like those first two sets," Westby said. "I don't think there was ever a time that we got overly excited. We just kind of took care of business, and we never trailed in those first two sets."
Marshall, the defending state champion, will begin the Class AA tournament at 5 p.m. Thursday at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. The Tigers earned the No. 1 seed in the tournament and will play Mora in the opening round.
Returning from a sprained ankle sustained in the second round of the playoffs, junior outside hitter Kenzie Beekman blasted 22 kills for the Tigers in Saturday's victory.
Marshall25 25 25
JCC17 18 21
Serving (good-att-aces): M-Hannah Bennett 13-13-0, Angela Tauer 16-17-1, Maci Louwagie 15-15-0, Sydney Griffin 10-10-0.
Kills: M-Beekman 22, Griffin 8, Tauer 6, Callie Graff 3.
Digs: M-Bennett 20, Griffin 14, Steph Baker 9.
Set Assists: M-Griffin 14, Rachel Sanow 13.
Blocks: M-Emma Doyle 2, Beekman, Tauer, Graff, Louwagie.
Marshall (26-5 overall) got past JCC (24-6) in four sets on Sept. 13, the same match Beekman recorded her 1,000th career kill, and Beekman said she and her teammates realized they couldn't afford to come out slow Saturday against the Huskies.
"They're tough. We just came in and knew what we had to do," she said. "We've been practicing for them and this is what we've been waiting for. It's just always fun to play Jackson."
Beekman provided much of the offense, but a whole host of Tigers joined in on a steadfast defensive effort against JCC's talented attackers. Libero Hannah Bennett and setter Sydney Griffin led the way with 20 and 14 digs, respectively. Griffin also had eight kills and 14 set assists in the match.
Marshall started Set 1 on 5-1 run and really never looked back. The Tigers kept a solid cushion between themselves and JCC throughout the set, and built a 21-11 lead after a kill by Angela Tauer. JCC chipped away at the lead with a 6-2 run, but had dug themselves too much of a hole and Beekman ended the set with a kill.
The second set was similar to the first, as Marshall scored four straight points on Tauer's serve to take a 4-1 edge. The Tigers continued to keep the pressure on JCC with solid passing and a strong attack, and after a kill by Marshall's Maci Louwagie to go up 18-10, Huskies head coach Teresa VanEpps had to call her second timeout of the set. JCC played nearly even with Marshall the rest of the way, but never got closer than six points as Marshall won 25-18.
After Set 2, it was clear Marshall had total control.
"We all knew that they were going to come in strong and we knew that we had to come in strong and just work hard, pass the ball and defend, defend, defend. That was our key word," Bennett said.
The Tigers had a few problems passing in the third set and fell behind 4-0. They also struggled with some short serves from the Huskies, as JCC's Rachel Johnson had back-to-back aces. They eventually figured their passing problems out and took a 15-13 lead after kills by Beekman and Emma Doyle. The Marshall lead grew to 23-18 after a kill by Griffin, followed by a Griffin ace serve, and JCC was never able to mount a rally.
Westby said he noticed JCC had a strategy of serving to Beekman during the match, possibly because of her sprained ankle. But the strategy proved ineffective, as Beekman showed no signs of her injury.
"If we were to poll all of the people here tonight and ask which ankle was bothering her, I think it would end up about 50-50," Westby said.
Now it's another trip to state for the Tigers, something that has become a November tradition for the school for more than a decade. But the experience never gets old for Westby or his players.
"This is the 12th year in a row and every year is different," Westby said. "It's a different crew of kids, and the bottom line is you're just happy for them. They get to experience something that not a lot of kids get to feel. To me, that's always been the neat thing about this."