KASSON — The experiment can be deemed a hit.
As part of its homecoming extravaganza on Friday, Kasson-Mantorville decided to host a volleyball match following its coronation, parade and pep fest and prior to its football game. The KoMets volleyball team took center stage during the afternoon in a match against Byron before a packed student section.
The home crowd got to roar with delight as K-M topped Byron in four sets, 25-20, 25-20, 22-25, 25-15.
"It was great, especially the first set and halfway through the second," K-M coach Adam VanOort said. "Everyone was having a great time and even the Byron students were having a lot of fun."
Students from both schools were let out early for the event, and with free admission, there were also plenty of adults on hand.
"It was really cool with all the fans, and even the ones from Byron," K-M junior Peyton Suess said. "It was exciting to see everyone in the student section."
Volleyball players are used to playing matches at all times of the day, having honed their skills in youth events and at tournaments. But regular-season crowds are not usually as large and vocal.
"I felt we were a little bit tense, but as the games went on we got used to the crowd," K-M setter Abbey Bigelow said. "We could tell they were all really supporting us."
The victory keeps K-M (13-8 overall) in the thick of the Hiawatha Valley League race with an 7-1 conference mark with the season winding down. The loss drops Byron to 3-5 in league play and 13-6 overall.
"It was disappointing really, but it was still a lot of fun despite that," Byron coach Owen Hoegh said. "I think our girls really put all they had into it. The crowds from both sides were into it and the pep band, too."
VanOort was happy to see a big student turnout.
"I would say a lot of the kids have never seen volleyball played before," he said. "They don't realize how big, powerful and athletic these players are."
Both teams played strong at the net, but K-M had the upper hand on defense and serving. The KoMets also blocked better at the net.
"They always have a real formidable block," Hoegh said.
The 6-foot Suess had missed two weeks due to mono before returning on Thursday night. Against Byron, she had a match-high 23 kills and added four ace serves.
"It's great to be back in the grove of things, but everybody stepped up," Suess said.
Caroline Braun chipped in with 10 kills for the KoMets and Bailey Berge had 24 digs. Bigelow had 41 set assists and Emilee Terry had nine ace serves.
"We try to focus on not winning, but playing our best volleyball," Bigelow said. "If we play our best, we feel we'll win."
Ayoka Lee, a 6-5 senior, sparked Byron's attack at the net with 17 kills and Hailey Bahr added 11. Allison Connelly collected 36 set assists.
"They were bigger and more physical than we thought they'd be," VanOort admitted.
But the KoMets pulled out two close sets to open the match. K-M then thwarted any momentum Byron built in the third set by jumping out to a 10-4 lead in the fourth set en route to victory.
Kasson-Mantorville 3, Byron 1
Byron: Allison Connelly 36 assists, 13 digs, 2 blocks; Coutrney Connelly 2 kills, 11 digs, 2 assists; Payton Sampson 3 kills, 2 aces, 9 digs; Taylor O'Connell 3 asssits, 17 digs; Ayoka Lee 17 kills, 3 digs; Hailey Bahr 12 kills, 3 assists, 2 digs; Rylie McRoberts 4 digs.
Kasson-Mantorville: Caroline Braun 10 kills; Kora Bretzman 7 digs; McKenzie Evans 2 kills; Abbey Bigelow 41 assists, 5 digs, 4 aces; Peyton Suess 23 kills, 7 digs, 4 aces; Bailey Berge 24 digs; Emilee Terry 6 kills, 9 aces, 3 blocks; Mya Suess 3 kills; Addison Murry 4 digs.