John Dzubay and the Stewartville Tigers have a good problem on their hands.
"We've geared up all season to play against Kasson-Mantorville, just to get out of the subsection," said Dzubay, Stewartville's head volleyball coach. "All of our energy had been focused on K-M. We don't have much time to regroup and it's always hard to face Caledonia."
That's the next task in front of the No. 2-ranked Tigers, who earned a hard-fought 3-1 victory against No. 4-ranked K-M in the Section 1AA West championship match on Thursday at the Mayo Civic Center.
Stewartville (26-6) advances to the Section 1AA championship match for the first time since 2011. It will face Caledonia (21-11) at 3 p.m. Saturday with a trip to the Class AA state tournament at stake.
The Tigers dropped the opening set to K-M, 25-20, then rattled off three consecutive 25-21 victories to seal the match. Stewartville was able to slow down K-M's talented eighth-grade middle hitter Peyton Suess over the final three sets.
Suess had seven kills in the opening set, but was limited to nine the rest of the way.
Stewartville was led by junior hitter Tara Rogers, who had a team-best 11 kills. She also had three momentum-shifting service aces in the decisive fourth set that turned a 14-13 Tigers deficit into a 16-14 lead. K-M never regained the lead from that point on.
The Tigers also received three service aces from junior Ally Schmitz, who missed a majority of the season with a knee injury. Dzubay put Schmitz in with the starters to serve for the first time this season and it paid off.
"She was awesome," Dzubay said. "She was out most of the season and that is some pressure to come in to, but she was great.
"That was two really good teams going at it, and any little (scoring) run can help a lot. It was really an intense match."
Stewartville 3, K-M 1
No. 2 Kasson-Mantorville: Taylor Miller 15 kills, 1 block; Peyton Suess 16 kills, 5 blocks; Gabbi Matuska 6 kills; Sarah Peterson 2 kills, 1 ace; Lilly Braun 38 kills, 1 kill, 1 block; Cori Kennedy 2 kills; Samantha McMillin 2 kills, 1 block.
No. 1 Stewartville: Tara Rogers 11 kills, 2 blocks, 3 aces; Marissa Behrens 10 kills; Karissa Kime 6 kills, 1 block; Jackie Bleifus 31 assists, 2 assists, 1 kill; Libby Christenson 3 kills, 2 blocks; Jenna Willenborg 7 kills, 1 block.
Caledonia sweeps D-E
Ashley Bichel was part of the Caledonia volleyball team that played in the Class AA state championship match two years ago. Now, Bichel is one of just two seniors on a Warriors team that is one victory away from going back to the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
Bichel led a balanced Caledonia attack Thursday night, finishing with 10 kills and three ace blocks as the third-seeded Warriors swept fifth-seeded Dover-Eyota 3-0 (25-17, 25-17, 25-13) in the Section 1AA East championship match.
Caledonia has just two seniors on its roster, middle hitter Bichel and outside hitter Bailey Peterson.
"We served well; we had a lot of aces," Bichel said, "and we shut down their outside (hitters). That helped us get going."
Caledonia's Mariah Schroeder had a match-high 11 kills, but the Warriors' defense was key on Thursday. They did a strong job defensively against powerful D-E hitters Brandi Blattner and Rylee Forshee. Blattner, a senior, had eight kills, and Forshee, a sophomore, finished with seven kills, 17 digs and an ace serve. But the Warriors (21-11) didn't allow either to take over the match.
The Eagles finished their season with a 10-18 record, having knocked off two higher seeds — including the top seed in the subsection, Chatfield — to reach the subsection final.
Caledonia will face perhaps its toughest test of the season on Saturday, with a trip to the state tournament on the line. The Warriors will meet No. 2-ranked Stewartville in the Section 1AA championship match at 3 p.m. Saturday at the Mayo Civic Center Arena.
"We'll have to have a good day of practice (today)," Bichel said. "We've played a lot of tough competition this year and that will really help."
Caledonia 3, Dover-Eyota 0
No. 5 Dover-Eyota: Rylee Forshee 7 kills, 17 digs, 1 ace; Jordan Meyers 19 digs; Brandi Blattner 8 kills; Emily Hallett 1 block; Brooke Kendall 16 assists; Aleese Holst 1 block.
No. 3 Caledonia: Ashley Bichel 10 kills, 3 ace blocks; Madisyn Heaney 5 kills; Mariah Schroeder 11 kills, 2 blocks; Katelyn Schulte 3 aces; McKenzie Denstad 4 kills, 2 aces; Sam Schroeder 6 kills, 3 aces, 2 blocks; Adrianna Reinhart 34 assists, 1 kill, 1 block.