ST. PAUL - The Marshall Tigers entered the 2013 MSHSL Class 2A Volleyball State Tournament quarterfinals as the No. 1 ranked team and, for the first two sets, they demonstrated why they deserved that designation.
The Tigers came out ready to play and quickly earned 25-7 and 25-7 set wins against the unranked Mora Mustangs. But in the third set, Marshall had a much tougher time separating itself from its opponent.
"I think we came out strong and ready to play," said Marshall senior outside hitter Kenzie Beekman who had a match-high 23 kills. "It's the state tournament, so you need to do that. We played at our level and kept the game going fast, at least for the first two sets."
Photo by Jenny Kirk
Marshall’s Kenzie Beekman, center, hits the ball against a pair of Mora defenders during the quarterfinal round of the MSHSL?Class 2A Volleyball State Tournament on Thursday at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Beekman finished with 23 kills and eight digs.
Eventually, the Tigers proved to be too much to handle and closed out the match after winning the third set 25-18.
"I think we just lost focus," Beekman said about the final set. "We kind of thought we had it, but then they hung with us. So, we had to kick it into gear, I guess. It was a good win. We fought hard, but we're going to have to come out stronger (today). It's going to keep getting more difficult."
The Mustangs recorded five ace blocks, eight kills and one ace block in the third set, challenging the Tigers to step up or potentially risk going to Set 4.
Marshall was able to gain some traction, breaking a 6-all tie by going on an 8-3 run behind three kills from Beekman and one from Callie Graff. After Mora took a timeout, the Tigers were able to build a 19-10 lead, picking up points on two kills from Sydney Griffin, an ace block from Marah Mulso and an ace serve from Beekman.
But the Mustangs would not back down and got to within five points, at 20-15 on a kill from Stephanie Cannon. Cannon kept her team on a roll, collecting a kill and an ace serve to keep things close at 21-17.
"We didn't have the best focus in the third set, but as we got going and we got better," Mulso said. "We just don't want to plan on doing that again."
The Tigers regrouped, picking up kills from Emma Doyle and Graff to take a 24-18 lead. Mulso then put the finishing touch on the match, contributing one of her four service aces in the contest to give her team the sweep.
"The third set was kind of slower, but we got it done," Mulso said. "It feels good to get the win."
On a team filled with six seniors, including four-year starters (Beekman, Griffin) and three-year starters (Rachel Sanow, Bennett, Stephanie Baker) Mulso is the rookie, though she doesn't play like one. She credits the veteran players for helping her grow into her role this season.
"We love them (seniors) and we're going to miss them when they're gone," Mulso said. "They do a good job of bringing everyone else up and encouraging them."
While she was on the bench during the Tigers state tournament run last season, the pressure is higher as Mulso has more weight to shoulder this year as a starting middle blocker.
"I was really nervous, but my team did a good job of getting me excited and pumped up," she said. "And once we got out there, it was really fun. It's definitely more fun to be out there on the court playing."
With the 23 kills, Beekman providing the consistency the top-ranked Tigers are used to having. She also had eight digs, two ace serves and an ace block.
"We try to rely on serving, passing and defense and those things have served us well this year," Marshall head coach Dan Westby said. "The fact that we have a lot of seniors and seniors with a lot of experience at the state tournament helps and we'll lean heavily on them."
Marshall quickly took a 6-1 lead in the first set, collecting points on kills from Beekman (two) and an ace tip from Mulso. Griffin then added three of her 10 kills to give the Tigers a 12-3 edge. A successful slide from Graff gave the Tigers a 15-5 advantage.
Along with aggressive play at the net from the powerful Marshall hitters and blockers, errors began to pile up for the Mustangs. After a kill from Beekman, Mora made three straight errors to close out the opening set.
The Tigers continued to dominate play in the second set, with Beekman producing nine of her match-high 23 kills. Beekman's first kill in the set gave Marshall a 2-1 edge. Following a kill by Mulso, the Tigers worked their way to a 12-3 lead. Libero Hannah Bennett had one of her finest digs during the stretch before finishing the match with 12 digs.
Behind strong serving from Lexi Saugstad, who went 20-for-20 in the match, Marshall rallied with a 12-0 run, closing out the second set 25-7. Beekman scored six of the last seven points - with five kills and one ace block in the process.
"I think our kids were really looking forward to playing and that really showed in the first two sets," Westby said. "The kids had a lot of focus and as a result, we got after them pretty good. "I think Mora maybe settled in a little bit in the third set, maybe felt like their backs were against the wall. It's a credit to them that they came out swinging. They did a pretty good of blocking. They're a good team."
Along with 10 kills, Griffin also contributed 16 set assists and an ace block, while Graff added five kills and two solo blocks. Bennett was 11-for-11 at the serving line with an ace.
With the sweep, the Tigers (30-3) advanced to the semifinal round to face No. 5 seed Fergus Falls, who defeated Belle Plaine 3-2 (26-28, 25-19, 25-14, 19-25, 15-9) in another quarterfinal matchup
"We were really impressed with Fergus Falls," Westby said. "I thought they played hard and they're very athletic. We'll certainly have our work cut out for us (today). We're bracing ourselves for a hard-fought match."
Marshall's quarterfinal win keeps alive the reality of a possible three-peat as Class AA state champions.
"We definitely have some big goals and we know that the teams from hereare just going to get better and we're really excited," Mulso said. "We're looking forward to the next match."
For the seniors, anything less than a third straight state championship would be a disappointment.
"Our goal is to win state," Beekman said. "We're going for a three-peat."
MARSHALL INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS
Serving (MADE-attEMPTED-aces): Lexi Saugstad 20-20-0, Kenzie Beekman 11-12-2, Hannah Bennett 11-11-1.
Kills: Beekman 23, Sydney Griffin 10, Callie Graff 5.
Digs: Bennett 12, Beekman 8, Griffin 6.
Set Assists: Griffin 16, Rachel Sanow 14.
Blocks: Marah Mulso 4, Graff 2, Beekman 1, Griffin 1, Saugstad 1, Emma Doyle 1.