ST. PAUL — Peyton Suess and Abbey Bigelow are just sophomores.

But the Kasson-Mantorville teammates have played enough varsity volleyball to be considered wise veterans.

That's how they looked on Thursday, playing in a state tournament for the first time. Suess and Bigelow — and the rest of the KoMets — appeared calm and confident in sweeping Hermantown 3-0 in a Class AA state quarterfinal match at Xcel Energy Center.

"It doesn't come naturally to be able to go out there and play loose and confidently like that," K-M head coach Adam VanOort said of K-M's young players. "We've talked about it a lot. We've had to reinforce that idea. The hard part is behind us; we've put the work in.

"I keep telling them 'the hay's in the barn.' We've worked extremely hard at practice all season, now it's time to trust that when we go out there, their skills will carry them through. They've earned the right to go out and play with confidence."

The No. 9-ranked and No. 3-seeded KoMets didn't blow out the Hawks, winning 25-18, 25-18, 25-19, but K-M always appeared in control, never trailing by more than four points.

Suess compared the atmosphere, playing in a large arena, to playing in the Section 1AA tournament.

"It's kind of like playing at Mayo Civic Center," said Suess, who had a match-high 21 kills. "You have to figure out your depth perception and that can play into choosing your shots early.

"We played well as a team, played for each other. We kept our errors down and kept the pressure on them."

Though Suess had the bulk of K-M's kills, Bigelow distributed the ball well, finishing with 35 assists. Five different K-M hitters had at least three kills.

"We have some great hitters and it's really easy for me to mix the ball around," Bigelow said. "I can give it to whoever, and I can trust that they'll do their best to hit into the open court."

K-M (22-11) also showed the mental toughness to close out close sets. Hermantown (27-4) was within three points, 20-17, late in Set 2 and Set 3, but the KoMets made more plays down the stretch.

"Kasson-Mantorville's hitters got in a good rhythm and we couldn't string a number of points together," Hermantown coach Susan Wasbotten said. "I didn't think they dominated us, but we had some errors we couldn't battle back from. Kasson-Mantorville has a good all-around team. They don't have any weaknesses."

The match turned when...: K-M went on a 10-4 run in Set 2 to turn a 6-2 deficit into a 12-10 lead. The KoMets didn't trail by more than two points the rest of the match.

It's in the stats: K-M was efficient hitting and serving. The KoMets finished the match with 15 ace serves and a .257 hitting percentage, compared to one ace serve and a .149 hitting percentage for Hermantown.

Up next: K-M will face No. 2 seed Maple Lake (27-3) at 7 p.m. today in a state semifinal match. The Irish defeated the KoMets 2-0 during pool play at the Class AA Minnesota Showcase on Sept. 23 in Burnsville.

K-M 3, Hermantown 0



Hermantown: Sierra Bolen 9 kills, 2 digs; Kiera Salo 2 kills, 5 digs; Ellie Gamradt 5 kills, 3 blocks; Jordyn Thomas 9 kills, 13 assists, 6 digs; Alexa Sinner 6 kills, 2 digs.

No. 3 Kasson-Mantorville: Madie Bigelow 6 kills, 1 dig; Abbey Bigelow 35 assists, 3 kills, 4 aces, 7 digs; Emilee Terry 6 kills, 1 dig; Kendra Stenzel 7 digs; Peyton Suess 21 kills, 9 digs, 2 aces; Elle Schultz 3 aces, 3 digs; Caroline Braun 2 digs; Jesse Riker 4 kills, 2 digs; Bailey Berge 13 digs, 5 aces.

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Sports Reporter

Jason has been a Post Bulletin sports reporter and columnist since 2004 and covers high school football, volleyball, softball, golf, hockey, junior hockey and auto racing. He is a 1999 graduate of the University of North Dakota.