Things would be easier for the Stewarville and Kasson-Mantorville girls volleyball programs if the other was not around.
But it sure wouldn’t be as much fun.
Such is life when you have two of the best volleyball programs in the state residing not only in the same section and conference, but just 25 miles apart.
There’s nobody that Hall of Fame coach John Dzubay’s Tigers relish beating more than Kasson-Mantorville. There’s also nobody that Dzubay’s bunch respects and enjoys as much as those KoMets.
And at Kasson-Mantorville, it’s the same thing. The Adam VanOort-coached KoMets pine to beat the Tigers so much because they respect them so much.
The programs agree on this: The other’s presence is the best thing that could have happened to them.
“We are super blessed to have Stewartville in our section and conference,” VanOort said. “When one of us makes it to state, it’s a huge advantage to have gone through the matches we have with each other.”
Chalk up Tuesday night in the jam-packed Stewartville gym as one of those growth experiences. K-M entered 20-2 and ranked third in the state. The host Tigers were 14-1 and No. 1 ranked.
It hadn’t gone well for Stewartville in recent years against K-M, with just two wins in its last six tries and having been bounced by the KoMets the last three years in the section tournament.
But things sure went Stewartville’s way on Tuesday.
“It was a great atmosphere in a packed gym, with tons of fans on both sides,” VanOort said. “It was everything you could have hoped for in a match. But Stewartville played great. It’s the best I’ve seen them play so far this year.”
The Tigers were so good that they made it a sweep, winning 25-14, 25-15, 25-17. They were led by future Division I player (Illinois State) Kaitlin Prondzinski. The senior outside hitter finished with 16 kills, the final one giving her 1,000 for her varsity career.
“We both (Stewartville and Kasson-Mantorville) always do well in our conference, but when we play each other, you never know who is going to win that one,” said Dzubay, who agreed with VanOort that this was his team’s best display this season. “But this is a match you always look forward to, because it makes you better.”
Prondzinski had been anticipating this one virtually since last season ended. Adding to her hype is that she is a member of the Southern Minnesota Volleyball team, a traveling unit that also includes a handful of Kasson-Mantorville players.
So Prondzinski’s emotions when taking on K-M on Tuesday were all over the place. This is her team’s biggest rival, its best competition, and the club she most wants to have bragging rights against.
But there is nothing close to hate when she meets up with K-M. Quite the opposite.
“I see this as a rivalry that is evolving,” Prondzinski said. “I played with three K-M players on my club team. Now that we are more acquainted, it is more of a friendly rivalry We are happy to have Kasson-Mantorville have success and they are happy to have us have success. But the match itself is always insane.”
True to Prondzinski’s “friendly” appraisal, the match ended with virtually all of the K-M players giving her a hug. Prondzinski had finished the night having reached the 1,000-kill plateau. The KoMets took the time to celebrate with her.