Adjustments are a big part of volleyball and Mabel-Canton took full advantage of some changes Thursday during its biggest match of the season so far.
The top-seeded Cougars dropped the first set 19-25 to No. 2 Caledonia in the Section 1A East championship match at Mayo Civic Center. But coach Lonnie Morken was quick to make a move and the Cougars proceeded to win the next three sets 25-23, 25-16, 26-24 to capture the subsection title for the second straight season.
"I'm just so proud of the girls," Morken said.
The win was the 16th straight for the Cougars, who are now 34-2, but it didn't come without a lot of effort against a taller Caledonia squad.
"We switched up our blocking scheme a little bit," Morken said. "On a couple of their girls we were jumping too early and then the balls in the first set were tooling off our blocks. We just had to delay our blocks just a split second and then we did a much better job of that."
No one did that better than M-C senior Sarina Strotz. The middle hitter's defense gave Caledonia fits the entire match. Strotz not only had 11 kills, but she also had eight blocks. She had a kill and then a block for the final two points of the match in the fourth set.
"She was great," Morken said. "Eight blocks? That might be a school record."
Morken also had to be concerned with Caledonia's Lydia Lange. The senior had a match-high 18 kills and five blocks, but the Cougars did just enough to keep her under control.
"We were wondering how we were going to be able to stop her," Morken said. "But we blocked her those last two points."
Morken also said a key was not to get rattled after dropping the first set.
Junior Kenidi McCabe was all over the court the entire match for M-C. She is the team's setter (35 set assists) and top defensive player (37 digs), but she also led the Cougars with 14 kills in the match.
"She was just tremendous," Morken said.
The Cougars will face Medford in the section finals for the second straight year. Medford won in four sets in 2018 en route to a Class A runner-up finish at state. They will meet in the Section 1A finals at 1 p.m. Saturday at Mayo Civic Center. Caledonia finishes 25-7.
MEDFORD HOLDS OFF K-W
Momentum can be very fickle in volleyball.
Medford appeared to be on the verge of a three-set sweep of Kenyon-Wanamingo in the Section 1A West championship match. But K-W overcame a 24-18 deficit to win the third set and get back in the match. The Knights then won the fourth game and appeared to have the momentum, but Medford was able to regroup to record a tight 17-15 win in the fifth and deciding set to win the subsection title.
"We tried to stay as positive as we could, but we just lost in a bit in that third set," Medford senior Emma Kniefel said.
Despite dropping two sets with a 2-0 lead, the Tigers didn't buckle.
"The fifth set just needed to keep our serve receive, we needed to play defense and we needed to stay aggressive," Kniefel said. "I think we kind of let up a little bit and we were tipping a lot more. We needed to be the aggressors and we did that."
Medford (23-8) overcame a 7-4 deficit to win the fifth and deciding set.
"Just some errors on our part," said K-W assistant coach Tracy Erlandson. "Maybe we played a little scared or timid, didn't want to make a mistake. But I'm proud of these girls, we were down ... that just shows you how these girls are, they never quit."
With the score tied at 15, Kniefel had two straight kills to score the final two points and win the match for Medford.
"The energy here is so crazy, it's so loud," said Kniefel, who finished with 18 kills. "So this match was so fun."
Ally Peterson had a match-high 25 kills for K-W while Julianna Boyum added 18 kills. K-W finishes the season 20-10.
SECTION 1A EAST FINAL
Mabel-Canton 3, Caledonia 1
No. 2 Caledonia: Alexis Simpson 11 kills, 25 digs; Haley Jennings 25 digs, 2 aces; Grace Privet 16 digs; Lydia Lange 18 kills, 5 blocks; Alexis Schroeder 11 digs.
No. 1 Mabel-Canton: Lauren Wyffels 11 assists, 15 digs; Payton Danielson 13 kills, 23 digs; Sarina Stortz 11 kills, 8 blocks; Molly Lee 8 kills; Kaylor Soiney 20 digs; Kenidi McCabe 14 kills, 35 assists, 37 digs.
SECTION 1A WEST FINAL
Medford 3, Kenyon-Wanamingo 2
No. 2 Medford: Kiley Nihart 28 digs, 4 aces; Clara Kniefel 4 aces; Izzy Reuvers 20 digs, 4 aces; Alyvia Johnson 15 kills; Emma Kniefel 18 kills; Morgan Langeslag 56 assists; Jenna Berg 19 digs; Kinsey Cronin 21 kills.
No. 1 Kenyon-Wanamingo: Ally Peterson 25 kills, 10 digs; Julianna Boyum had 18 kills, 5 blocks; Madi Luebke had 37 assists, 14 digs; Hailey Lerfald 11 kills, 5 blocks; Riley Dummer 21 assists, 9 digs; Leah Berg 4 blocks; Megan Mattson 10 digs.