ST. PAUL — Erin Lamb wasn’t going to let her Stewartville volleyball team lose.
She lived up to that, even as the Tigers seemed on the brink of going down Friday night in the Class AA state volleyball tournament semifinals at Xcel Energy Center.
Stewartville (29-4) entered its match with Concordia Academy-Roseville (26-7) ranked No. 1 in the state, as it had been all season. The Beacons were ranked fifth, but showed up with all kinds of momentum after romping past No. 7-ranked Watertown-Mayer in the quarterfinals.
Concordia also entered with one of the top handful of players in the state, do-everything junior Kira Fallert, who is as good in the back row as she is in the front.
Fallert is an All-State player.
But so is the 6-feet-2 Lamb and did she ever play like one in these state semifinals.
Lamb went an immense ways toward helping her team build a two-set lead against the Beacons, and then called on all of her reserves in guiding the Tigers back from the brink. That after the Fallert-led Beacons had tied things up, forcing a winner-take all fifth set.
“I put my heart and soul into that match,” Lamb said. “It had been a while (four years) since we’d been to state, and I just wanted this so badly for my team. We’ve put so much into this, that winning today means a lot. I left everything out there.”
In so doing, the junior also left a lot on the statistical sheet. That included a career-high 32 kills. That tied Fallert, who also totaled 32.
The Tigers needed every one of those from Lamb, in part because Concordia did a decent job of containing Stewartville’s other All-State player, outside hitter Kaitlyn Prondzinski. The senior, who was other-worldly in the quarterfinals, was “limited” to 16 kills against the Beacons.
But, thanks in good part to Lamb, who will play at the University of Kentucky in two years, Stewartville didn’t need Prondzinski to be jaw-dropping this time.
“You have to have a go-to player who can put the ball away,” Stewartville 34th-year coach John Dzubay said. “And Erin was incredible tonight.”
Stewartville looked like it might win the match in three sets. In claimed the first two 25-21, 27-25.
But Concordia Academy had no interest in giving up.
“We’ve been down 2-0 before,” Beacons coach Kim Duis said. “But to come back against Stewartville after being down 2-0, I was really proud of our players.”
As for the Tigers, who dropped the third and fourth sets 25-23, 25-23, they seemed to be in the kind of spot where nerves could have crushed them that fifth set. But it’s a good thing Stewartville has such players as Lily Welch on its side.
Welch, a do-everything type who never seems to wilt, talked to herself before that deciding fifth set began. She said her plan was shared by her entire team.
“I wasn’t surprised that Concordia came back,” said Welch, who finished with 17 kills and 15 digs. “We knew they are really good. But we just had to focus on staying relaxed (down the stretch). We focused on not feeling pressure.”
Lamb accounted for three of her team’s first four points in that final set, kills all. Welch mixed into that spree another one of her usual perfectly placed hits, putting the ball where Concordia wasn’t. It was another nice touch shot by Welch that gave Stewartville a 7-4 lead.
And then Prondzinski went to work with a block and a kill for points. The latter gave Stewartville an 11-5 lead.
There was no way that the Tigers were going to lose that cushion. Lamb wouldn’t let them.
Stewartville will play for its fifth state championship under Dzubay on Saturday, taking on No. 3 seed and defending state champion North Branch at 3 p.m.
Stewartville 3, Concordia 2
Concordia 21 25 25 25 7
Stewartville 25 27 23 23 15
Concordia: Brook Weichbrodt 2 kills, 54 assists, 18 digs; Shaina Zinter 10 kills, 2 digs; Maia Adams 12 kills, 13 digs; Sydnety Pelzer 9 kills, 15 digs, 1 ace; Kira Fallert 32 kills, 1 assist, 12 digs; Emma Revoir 2 kills, 2 assists, 3 digs; 1 block; Grace Landvik 3 assists, 29 digs.
Stewartville: Jolie Stecher 10 kills, 8 assists; 24 digs; Allie Elliott 5 kills, 5 assists, 7 digs; Jaidyn Brower 1 kill, 64 assists, 18 digs; Lily Welch 17 kills, 2 assists, 1 ace, 15 digs; Erin Lamb 32 kills, 1 assist, 20 digs; 1 block; Kaitlyn Prondzinski 16 kills, 1 ace, 13 digs.