MARSHALL - With each passing year, the target on the back of the Marshall volleyball program has grown bigger and bigger.
With the Tigers going for a potential three-peat, it has never been bigger.
"I received a couple emails from coaches that are going to be in the tournament," said Marshall head coach Dan Westby. "They both said the same thing; their girls have the goal of getting to play Marshall in the state tournament."
Photo by Jeff Arenz
Marshall’s Lexi Saugstad tries to hit the ball over the blocking attempt of Morris Area/Chokio-Alberta’s Lacee Maanum (9) and Kayla Pring (16) during the MSHSL Class 2A Section 3 Tournament championship match Saturday at Southwest Minnesota State University’s R/A Facility.
Marshall (29-3) will enter Thursday's quarterfinal matchup with Mora (27-4) as the top seed in Class AA after finishing No. 1 in the coaches poll and in the QRF rankings, but Westby said the Tigers don't take anything for granted.
"They are a team that has improved a lot in the last year," said Westby. "They have a couple kids that they really rely on heavily."
This will be the second straight year that Marshall will face Mora to start the tournament. One major hurdle the Tigers will have to contend with is junior middle hitter Brooke Elvehjem.
"She's a six-foot junior and she led them in hitting this year with 315 kills," Westby said. "When we played them last year in the first round, she gave us some problems as a sophomore. We're hoping to do a better job containing her this year."
The Mustangs defeated Cloquet 3-1 in the Section 7 championship to advance to the state tournament for the second straight year and third overall. While Marshall, which is making its 13th straight appearance and 25th overall, Westby said that you can't count any team out and stressed the importance of taking it one match at a time.
"They are a different team this year. We are not going to look too much at their personnel and what they did a year ago," said Westby. "We're going to focus on this year.
"We've done this throughout the section tournament. We're taking this one opponent at a time and we're not overlooking anybody. We're just taking this one match at a time. Everything we are doing right now is focusing on Mora, and, if we're fortunate enough to win, we'll take a hard look at our next opponent."
Entering the Class AA Section 3 Tournament, the Tigers had tallied 1,026 kills as a team. Kenzie Beekman leads the way with 402 kills and Sydney Griffin is next with 212, but it's the additional kills the team has garnered that has made a difference to Westby.
"Our stats are much different this year," Westby said. "A kid like Callie Graff has really improved. She's become a force for us at the net as well. We have some other kids that can score for us as well. We hope this makes it harder for teams to defend us."
With the state tournament looming in their sights, the Tigers haven't let up, even in practice.
"We had one of our tougher practices on Monday. We conditioned pretty hard," said Westby. "We're still trying to find little ways to get better. I think a lot of teams at this point of the season want to maintain and try to avoid injury. I guess we haven't taken that approach. We're still going to get after it in practice and they've done a nice job of that."
The Marshall girls are happy to continue the tradition of Tiger volleyball at the state tournament and know they will see their opponent's best every match.
"It's certainly exciting to play in that kind of atmosphere and I know our kids are excited," Westby said. "It should be a fun match on Thursday and we're just hoping to advance and keep doing what we're doing.
"Teams have brought their A-game every match they've played us. That's really helped us prepare for this tournament."