Volleyball titles not old hat for Stewartville
By Jason Feldman
HIGH SCHOOL VOLLEYBALL
This never gets old for Stewartville.
When a Wabasha-Kellogg serve landed out of bounds to end the Section One, Class AA championship volleyball match Saturday, the Tigers high-fived, hugged and jumped around in the middle of the Mayo Civic Center court as though it was the first time Stewartville had earned a state tournament berth.
Actually, it’s the third time in the past four years and the 17th time since 1987 that Stewartville will represent Section One at state. And all of the Tigers had reason to celebrate Saturday — whether they were on last year’s section championship team or not.
For those who weren’t, they were able to celebrate their first chance to play in a state tournament. For those who were, they were able to celebrate getting a chance to attain their No. 1 goal for this season — win a state title and rid themselves of the sick feeling that came along with a 3-2 loss to Lake of the Woods in the state championship match.
Ironically, Stewartville (27-3) will face Lake of the Woods in a state quarterfinals match on Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
"Last year was devastating," senior hitter Amanda Thompson said. "We just wanted the chance to go (to state) and play our hearts out. We’ll play with our hearts and whatever happens, happens."
Thompson was one of a handful of Tigers to play a strong all-around game against W-K (20-10), finishing with nine kills and seven blocks.
Her ace serve late in the second game helped snap Stewartville (27-3) out of a rut, putting it ahead for good at 18-17. The Tigers went on to win the second game 25-20, in between wins of 25-15 in games one and three.
"We have so much depth," Thompson said when asked the key reason for Stewartville’s success. "We have all six players on the floor who can block, hit, set and play defense. And (setter) Leigh (Splittstoesser) can set it to anyone."
The Tigers had another strong defensive game, led again by freshman Julie Rainey with 12 digs.
"She had some really good saves," Stewartville coach John Dzubay said, "and then we were able to do something with it. We were able to finish the plays."
Wabasha-Kellogg had leads in all three games, but couldn’t string together a long rally.
"(Stewartville) is so active," W-K coach Katie Gove said, "and the ball never seems to drop on their side of the floor without a great effort."
Seniors Jada McNallan (5-for-5) and Brittany Vaplon (7-for-7, 13 assists) led W-K in serving, while senior Jackie Hust — who played AAU basketball this past summer with Stewartville’s Thompson and Renee Waugh — had seven kills and five digs.
Stewartville’s Erin Ness had seven kills and 10 digs; Waugh had five kills; Alex Nold finished with 11 kills, seven ace blocks and eight good blocks; Splittstoesser had 33 assists, eight digs and three ace blocks; Vanessa Lawrenz added eight digs; and Emily Rainey was 15-for-15 serving with three aces.