Kasson-Mantorville has been one of the best volleyball programs in the state over the past half-decade.
This season, the KoMets are the best in Class AA heading into this week’s state tournament, according to the state rankings. That No. 1 ranking has led to the top seed in the state tournament and it means K-M gets the best effort from every opponent it faces.
Hiawatha Valley League rival Lake City was no exception on Saturday.
The Tigers pushed the KoMets from the start of the Section 1AA championship match, but K-M made the plays it needed to in crucial moments and held off Lake City for a 3-1 victory at Mayo Civic Center.
The 25-17, 25-27, 25-14, 26-24 victory gives K-M its third consecutive section championship and its third straight trip to state.
“The best part of it is just being able to do it together,” K-M senior libero Bailey Berge said. “We’ve been playing together since we were in fifth grade, so we’re all best friends and we have a great connection. We just love being with each other all the time, no matter where we’re at, and that’s the best part of it.”
This time, K-M (30-2) will enter the state tournament as the team to beat.
The KoMets were awarded the top seed at state on Sunday, when coaches of the eight qualifying teams voted on the tournament seeding. K-M will meet St. Cloud Cathedral (28-2) in the state quarterfinals at 5 p.m. Thursday at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. The winner of that match will play in state semifinals at 5 p.m. Friday against either No. 4 North Branch or No. 5 Watertown-Mayer.
“It’s very exciting going up there knowing that everyone will look at us as a team to beat,” Berge said, “but we have to go up there thinking of ourselves as the underdogs and we can’t let that get us (overconfident). It’s exciting that we get to be together for another week and keep our season going. We don’t want it to end.”
K-M entered Saturday’s section title match less than 48 hours removed from an emotional 3-1 victory against HVL rival and No. 2-ranked Stewartville in the Section 1AA West championship match.
Lake City matched K-M’s intensity from the get-go, hanging with the KoMets in the opening set, then leading a majority of the second set. The Tigers (19-12) showed their poise when K-M took a 24-23 lead and served for set point. But Grace Bany and Tori Oliver combined for a block to tie the score. Sophomore hitter Delaney Issendorf then delivered a kill and an ace block to end the set and give the Tigers the momentum.
Lake City was led by Issendorf, who had 20 kills, 8 digs and 4 blocks. Olivia Pennington added nine kills, Morgan West had 18 digs and Elyse Dalager had 25 assists.
“They blocked really well,” K-M coach Adam VanOort said of Lake City. “Some of our hitters kind of tried to change the way they were playing because they got blocked a couple of times. They played great defense and they attacked the ball.
“Maybe some of their attacks were a little unconventional because of the angles they were coming at and the timing of them, and it seemed like our block was never able to make a really solid adjustment until maybe the last point of the match.”
K-M breezed in the third set, though, and battled back from a 20-17 deficit to win 26-24 on a block by Emilee Terry and McKenzie Evans.
The victory was a complete team effort from the KoMets, who received strong defensive play from Berge and key contributions from a handful of players off the bench, including Cate Wanous, Madison Cummings, Anna Braun and Olyvia Thoen.
“I’m confident to bring in anybody at different times if we need them,” VanOort said. “They all train hard and play hard in practice and are always ready to go if we need them.
“I would say some of our top battles of the year have come in practice. We try to push each other, beat each other every day. That gets us ready for these types of matches.”
The KoMets were also led by the usual suspects, as senior hitter Peyton Suess had 25 kills and four blocks. Terry finished with 11 kills and freshman setter Maddie Converse had 31 assists.
K-M will now prepare to make the eighth state tournament appearance in school history and fourth in the past six seasons. Berge said all of the big matches the KoMets have played in in recent seasons will be beneficial.
“I think that will be a big advantage,” she said. “Nerves are a big thing up there. We’ve played up there and we’ve played in this arena (Mayo Civic Center). Most teams don’t get to play in an arena this big, so that’s another big advantage we’ll have.
“Our four seniors have been on the varsity for a long time. It’s another big positive for us and we’re all confident playing together.”
K-M 3, LAKE CITY 1
Lake City 17 27 14 24
Kasson-Mant. 25 25 25 26
Lake City: Elyse Dalager 25 assists; Hannah Grimm 13 assists; Olivia Pennington 9 kills, 6 digs; Grace Bany 5 kills, 4 blocks; Delaney Issendorf 20 kills, 8 digs, 4 blocks; Morgan West 18 digs.
Kasson-Mantorville: Caroline Braun 5 kills; Madison Cummings 5 kills; McKenzie Evans 6 kills, 2 blocks; Maddie Converse 31 assists, 2 aces; Bailey Berge 3 aces; Emilee Terry 11 kills, 3 blocks, 2 aces; Mya Suess 6 kills, 3 blocks; Peyton Suess 25 kills, 3 blocks.