Stewartville rolls into state volleyball title match
By Jason Feldman
HIGH SCHOOL VOLLEYBALL
ST. PAUL — Stewartville took little time to celebrate.
Sure, the Tigers were excited to be returning to the Class AA state volleyball championship match. But following their 25-18, 21-25, 25-19, 25-22 victory over LeSueur-Henderson in a state semifinal match at the Xcel Energy Center on Friday, they were focused more on today.
Third-ranked Stewartville (29-3) will play in the seventh state championship match in school history at 3 p.m. today against No. 2 Jordan. It’s a chance for the Tigers’ seven seniors to end their careers on a high note and wipe away the memory of a bitter 3-2 loss to Lake of the Woods in last year’s state final.
"We think about it all the time," Tigers senior hitter Renee Waugh said of last season’s title match loss. "Mentally and physically we’ve been preparing for (today) since that (loss).
"It’s been that much more motivating for us and it’s made us work that much harder in the offseason and during practices."
The last hill to climb for the Tigers is a steep one. Jordan enters today’s match with a 32-1 record.
While Jordan has the slightly better record, Stewartville has a distinct advantage in experience. The Tigers have won three state titles (1991, 1997, 2000) and were in last year’s state final, while Jordan is playing in a championship match for the first time.
Stewartville coach John Dzubay said the Tigers will have to be ready to face Jordan’s Brittany Chambers, a sophomore hitter who entered the state tournament with 515 kills this season.
"She’s full of energy," Dzubay said. "She’ll come out of the back row and take a big swing every time."
Stewartville had to hold off a hard-swinging LeSueur-Henderson team. The Giants weren’t ranked in the final Class AA state poll, but they didn’t allow the Tigers to relax.
"It helps a lot to play in matches like this," Waugh said. "We have great team chemistry and it helps us pick our game up and be more prepared."
Depth was the key for Stewartville, as senior setter Leigh Splittstoesser (33 assists) distributed the ball well.
"She put our hitters in good situations, but we were hitting too many balls out," Dzubay said. "We were too pumped up and hitting as hard as we could. Then we settled down and started mixing it up."
Splittstoesser tied Amanda Thompson and Alex Nold with a team-high 10 kills. Erin Ness added nine kills, and Julie Rainey and Waugh had seven each.
"We’re an all-around team," Waugh said. "Mr. Dzubay always says we have so many hitters we can go to, and we don’t have a superstar."
NOTES: Stewartville’s Nold played through a severely sprained ankle, but showed no signs of pain during the match. "I was really proud of her," Dzubay said. "The other team probably had no idea how badly she was hurt." … Friday’s total attendance was 8,067 for a two-day total of 16,960. The all-time record for total tournament attendance is 23,826, set last year.
STEWARTVILLE 3, LE SUEUR-HENDERSON 1
Le Sueur-Henderson 18 25 19 22
Stewartville 25 21 25 25
LeSueur-Henderson: Sarah Hank 18 kills, 15 digs; Amanda Lindeman 34 assists; Brianne Berger 13 digs.
Stewartville: Amanda Thompson 10 kills; Leigh Splittstoesser 33 assists, 10 kills, 12 digs; Alex Nold 10 kills; Julie Rainey 16 digs; Laura Hoover 5 aces.
Stewartville will compete in its seventh state volleyball championship match today. The Tigers have won three of the previous six:
2005: Lake of the Woods 3, Stewartville 2
2001: Tracy-Milroy-Balaton 3, Stewartville 0
2000: Stewartville 3, Windom Area 2
*1997: Stewartville 3, Central Minn. Christian 2
*1995: Tracy-Milroy 3, Stewartville 0
*1991: Stewartville 3, MACCRAY 2
* — Class A championship match (in a two-class system)
Today, Stewartville could become just the sixth school to win four or more Minnesota state volleyball championships. Schools with the most state titles:
- Robbinsdale Armstrong 7
- Tracy-Milroy 7
- Chaska 5
- Columbia Heights 4
- Eagan 4
- Central Minnesota Christian 3
- Fosston 3
- Moose Lake 3
- Stewartville 3