MARSHALL - The Russell-Tyler-Ruthton volleyball team advanced to the Section 3A championship match by beating three higher-seeded teams in its South sub-section tournament, twice earning five-set victories. And going toe-to-toe with Minneota, the top seed from the North sub-section, through the first half of the opening set of Saturday's 3A final, the upset-minded Knights were hoping to at least give the Vikings a scare.
But Minneota showed why it's not just one of the top teams in the section, but one of the premier teams in the state, by putting together two massive runs to close the first two sets, then dominating for almost the entirety of the third set to earn a 25-15, 25-15, 25-11 win and earn its fourth straight state tournament appearance.
The Vikings and Knights were tied at 12 in the first set before Minneota put RTR away with a 13-3 run. The second set was quite similar, as the teams were tied at 13 until a 12-2 Minneota run put the Vikings up 2-0 and took some of the life out of the Knights.
Photo by Matt Dahlseid
The Minneota volleyball team celebrates after winning the Section 3A championship against Russell-Tyler-Ruthton Saturday at the R/A Facility at Southwest Minnesota State University.
"We got stuck in one of our rotations and we just couldn't get a good pass up for our setter to work with," said first-year RTR head coach TJ Williams. "Once the momentum kind of built for Minneota, it's tough to come back from because when you give them a few points, basically, they go for the throat. They're a heck of a team."
The match played out as Minneota head coach Steph Hennen had hoped. She had warned her team beforehand that RTR was going to put up a strong fight, and told her players to keep pounding away.
"I told them that RTR plays very good defense and we need to be ready for them to throw back anything and everything we threw at them, and they did do a nice job of doing that," Hennen said. "But I think it gets hard when you get tired and you have to play defense all night, and that's what we were hoping was going to happen."
Minneota25 25 25
RTR15 15 11
Serving (good-att-aces): M-Faith Laleman 16-16-0, Megan Larson 7-8-1, Molly Hennen 15-15-0, Shelby Corbin 11-12-0, Taylor Reiss 9-10-2; RTR-Delanie Jorgensen 8-10-1, Justine Possail 6-7-1, Destinee Strand 8-8-0, Allison Pochardt 6-6-0.
Kills: M-Reiss 21, Hennen 9, Shelby Corbin 6, Larson 4, Hanna Prellwitz; RTR-Janel Wichern 13, Leslie Willert 4, Pochardt 3, Dana Schaefer.
Digs: M-Hennen 19, Corbin 14, Larson 12, Reiss 11, Laleman 6, Analisa Buysse 5; RTR-Wichern 18, Pochardt 15, Jorgensen 10, Willert 7, Strand 5.
Set Assists: M-Larson 31; RTR-Strand 5.
Blocks: M-Prellwitz 2, Hennen 2, Reiss; RTR-None.
Minneota standout middle hitter Taylor Reiss used her forceful swings to tire out the Knights. She finished the match with 21 kills, while Molly Hennen added nine.
"I think we always start slow, but towards the end of the game we start picking it up and start swinging a lot harder," she said. "It's just like we needed to get warmed up."
RTR sophomore outside hitter Janel Wichern did her best to try to wear out the Vikings' defense. She pounded down 13 kills and helped keep the Knights in contention midway through both the first and second sets. But Minneota's defense was up to task to close the sets out. Molly Hennen tallied 19 digs, Shelby Corbin had 14, setter Megan Larson added 12, and Reiss chipped in 11.
The Vikings' tough defense allowed for better sets and a stronger attack, which kept the Knights off balance, and Minneota had no problem finishing off RTR in the third set.
"If we're winning by a lot, we don't want to let them come back," Reiss said. "We want to keep pushing and finish the game."
Though they couldn't keep pace with the Vikings on Saturday, the Knights still had a better season than most volleyball fans in the area could have anticipated, and at 20-13 overall, they finished with the program's first winning season since 2007.
"I knew coming in that we had a good team and that we had the talent to get it done, they just had to believe in themselves," Williams said. "I told the girls early on in the season that Nov. 10th is the last day we play volleyball, and if we would have won tonight it would have been. They were definitely believing in themselves and it's good that they showed southwest Minnesota that RTR volleyball is here for a while. We're looking to come back next year just as strong."
Wichern had 18 digs for RTR in the loss. Allison Pochardt had 15 digs, and Delanie Jorgensen added 10. Leslie Willert had five digs and four kills in her final match as a Knight.
The Vikings (29-3 overall) earned the No. 2 seed in the Class A tournament and will play North Woods (23-3) at 3 p.m. Thursday in the opening round at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Minneota has finished third in its last two state appearances.
"We have pretty high expectations," Steph Hennen said. "We want to represent our section and our conference well, and we'd really like to medal down there."