ST. PAUL — The comfort level was different this time for Stewartville senior Kaitlyn Prondzinski. Way different.
The last time the All-State outside hitter was in the state tournament she was an eighth-grader.
An overwhelmed eighth-grader.
“I remember feeling a little bit scared last time,” Prondzinski said. “There were some great hitters in that tournament.”
Whatever fear that Prondzinski carried with her four years ago — which also represented the last time her Stewartville volleyball team was in the state tournament — was all gone Thursday.
That was too bad for Annandale, which the Tigers met at Xcel Energy Center in the Class AA state quarterfinals. Prondzinski showed no nerves in this opening-round match and neither did any of her teammates.
The result was a blowout win by by the state’s No. 1-ranked team, Stewartville dismantling the Cardinals 25-17, 25-12, 25-21.
Next up is a 5 p.m. Friday semifinal match with No. 5-ranked Concordia Academy-Roseville.
“I thought the difference was really in the first set,” 34th-year Stewartville coach John Dzubay said. “We came out with a lot of energy. And no, nobody seemed at all nervous.”
The high-leaping Prondzinski was as energetic as any of her teammates early, the high leaping senior setting the tone with five hammered kills that opening frame.
It the Cardinals had any hopes of not being overwhelmed, that didn’t last as Prondzinski and the rest of the Tigers’ lethal attack both hammered and subtly tapped their way to a flurry of points.
Lily Welch was the queen of those changeups, driving Annandale crazy with perfectly placed soft offerings that so often hit the Cardinals’ side of the floor.
“It was working, so I figured I might as well keep doing it,” Welch said.
All of that Tigers offense (Prondzinski 12 kills, Welch 10, All-State player Erin Lamb nine and Jolie Stecher eight), was set up by the gorgeous play of Jaidyn Brower. The junior got Stewartville immediately in a rhythm and finished with 32 set assists.
“It’s pretty easy to set to (her front-line teammates), because they can hit everything,” Brower said.
As nicely as Stewartville’s offense was working, Dzubay was even more pleased with its defense.
“Our defense was really good right off the bat,” said Dzubay, whose team improved to 28-4 overall. “You win a few of those (longer rallies) and the other team knows they’re going to be in trouble.”
Some of Stewartville’s best digs came from the towering and athletic Lamb, as well as tag-team front-line partner Prondzinski. They each totaled nine digs. Brower had 14 and Jolie Stecher 11.
Annandale coach Michaelle Macalena knew her team was up against a juggernaut in Stewartville. Nothing she saw from the Tigers changed her mind.
“They are just so well-rounded,” said Macalena, whose 27-4 team had its seven-match winning streak snapped. “They have such a quick offense and their middle and outside hitters are really good. We were trying to put a block in the middle (of the net), but. . .”
Stewartville 3, Annandale 0
Annandale 17 12 21
Stewartville 25 25 25
Annandale: Abby Neutz 17 kills, 12 digs, 1 ace; Tessa Conte 2 kills; Kitri Reimer 23 assists, 7 digs; Jada Bieniek 5 kills, 6 digs; Kali Jones 1 kill, 1 dig.
Stewartville: Jolie Stecher 8 kills, 11 digs, 2 aces; Allie Elliott 1 kill, 6 assists, 7 digs; Jaidyn Brower 3 kills, 32 assists, 14 digs; Lily Welch 10 kills, 1 ace, 9 digs; Erin Lamb 9 kills, 2 assists, 1 ace, 9 digs; Kaitlyn Prondzinski 12 kills, 8 digs.