ST. PAUL - For the fifth time in six years, the Marshall Tigers will vie for the Class AA state volleyball championship. The Tigers reached the 2012 finals, where they will face Caledonia, by outlasting the Belle Plaine Tigers 25-20, 27-25, 18-25, 25-20 at the Xcel Energy Center on Friday.
"It really was a hard-fought match," Marshall head coach Dan Westby said. "Belle Plaine is an outstanding team and we're fortunate to be moving on. Their kids are a little bit like the team we played (Thursday night). They had no fear at the net and went up and swung hard. We had some struggles blocking tonight, but a lot of that stemmed from the nice job they did hitting."
The tilt between the Tigers was a high-offense affair, as the two teams combined for 116 kills, with Marshall's Kenzie Beekman leading all contestants with 27. Belle Plaine was led by Haley Fogarty's 19 kills. For Beekman, who missed the sub-section finals after spraining her ankle, Friday night's output proved that she is indeed recovered from her injury.
Photo by Travis Andries
Marshall jumped out to an 8-4 lead in the opening set and managed to keep Belle Plaine at bay. The fourth-seeded Tigers cut Marshall's lead down to two points at 8-6, but the top-seeded Tigers got kills from Beekman at all the right moments. Of their final 17 points, 10 were on Beekman kills.
"It's always fun to play good teams, and they're a really good team," Beekman said. "But I thought we played really well as a team and we fought for each other."
During the second set, Marshall saw a 17-10 lead slip away as Belle Plaine took advantage of some open holes on the block and timely Marshall errors.
Belle Plaine 20 25 25 20
Marshall25 27 18 25
Serving (good-att-aces): BP-Claire Otto 19-20-2, Haley Fogarty 16-16-1; M-Angela Tauer 23-24-5, Kenzie Beekman 18-18-1, Rachel Sanow 17-18-0.
Kills: BP-Fogarty 19, Mariena Hayden 16, Kirsten Johnson 11; M-Beekman 27, Sydney Griffin 14.
Digs: BP-Otto 18, Hayden 17, Fogarty 14, Johnson 10; M-Hannah Bennett 22, Steph Baker 15, Beekman 12, Rachel Sanow 10, Griffin 9.
Set Assists: BP-Johnson 31, Devin Lehman 24; M-Sanow 28, Griffin 20.
Blocks (solo-assists): BP-Jordan Going 0-5, Johnson 0-3, Marykay Nasby 0-2, Amara Meyer 0-2, Fogarty 0-1, Hayden 0-1; M-Callie Graff 3-2, Emma Doyle 0-2, Maci Louwagie 0-2, Beekman 0-1, Griffin 0-1.
Belle Plaine outscored Marshall 14-5 to force set point at 24-22, but the defending Class AA champions proved they were unwilling to relent their crown just yet.
Marshall used a pair of errors by Belle Plaine to tie the game at 24, before Mariena Hayden knocked down a kill to give those Tigers a 25-24 lead. Hayden gave Marshall a free pass when her serve found the net.
The final two Tiger points came on a pair of blocks, both featuring sophomore Callie Graff. She and Beekman combined to stuff Marykay Nasby to give Marshall a 26-25 lead. Graff then teamed up with Emma Doyle to deny Fogarty and give their team a 2-0 lead. Graff finished the match with four of Marshall's seven team blocks, including three block aces.
"I think we struggled a little bit, but then we all came together at the important parts and made sure that we got the blocks," Graff said. "We got our timing down and we got it going."
For Westby, the ability to come back facing set point after losing an early lead showed the character of his team.
"Our team competed hard," Westby said. "I thought defensively our kids really did a nice job, especially in the back row. We dug a lot of balls, found ways to keep balls alive and it was just a great defensive effort by our kids."
In total, the Tigers had 78 digs, but were led by Hannah Bennett's 22. Steph Baker (15), Rachel Sanow (10) and Beekman (12) also had double-digit digs on the night.
Sanow also had a team-high 28 set assists, while setting partner Sydney Griffin had 20 set assists and 14 kills for Marshall.
Marshall trailed throughout the third set, allowing Belle Plaine to amass a .361 hitting percentage against them with 20 of their 25 points coming off a kills.
The Marshall Tigers (28-5 overall) rebounded in Set 4, climbing out to a 6-2 lead. The two teams then traded points until a 4-0 run by Marshall made the score 16-9. Belle Plaine fought back to cut Marshall's lead to 19-17, but the Tigers used a 6-3 disparity in scoring to advance to the championship game.
Marshall will face Caledonia, who advanced to the championship with a 3-0 victory over previously unbeaten Sauk Centre. The Tigers and Warriors faced off once already this season, with Marshall claiming a 2-0 victory at the Lakeville North tournament on Oct. 6.
"We played them over a month ago and I think they're a team that's a lot more confident than when we first played them," Westby said. "They're really on a roll right now. It'll be an exciting match, I'm sure."
But for his players, they are just excited for the chance to defend their title in person.
"I'm just really excited and we're all really pumped to get it going," Graff said.
Added Beekman, "It's the moment we've all been waiting for, I love it."