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Century makes a statement — in five grueling sets against Mayo

It had been a while, but Century finally got the best of Mayo in a volleyball match on Tuesday night. It took five sets to get it done.

Mayo-Century-volleyball-Oct. 4
Century's Tiana Stevens attempts to tip the ball over Mayo's Maria Winter and Gabrelle Buhrow on Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022 at Century High School.
Alex VandenHouten / Post Bulletin
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ROCHESTER — Star middle hitter Paige Decker has been a member of the Century volleyball varsity for four years.

Heading into this season, the senior couldn’t recall ever having beaten cross-town rival Mayo.

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She was right. The last Century volleyball win over Mayo came in 2018, a season when the Panthers finished 24-7.

But that drought ended Tuesday night, the contest played inside a crowded and boisterous Century gymnasium.

It barely ended.

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Century needed every bit of its fiber to finally get it done, winning in five grueling sets. The teams traded off winning sets, Century going first until the Panthers finally closed things out with a 16-14 win in Set 5.

The match paired two of the top teams not only in the Big Nine Conference but the state. Mayo (5-1 Big Nine, 14-3 overall) is ranked 10th in Class AAAA, while Century (7-1, 19-2) was just out of the rankings, though it figures to land somewhere inside them after Tuesday’s statement win.

The final tally went like this, Century winning 25-19, 21-25, 28-26, 12-25, 16-14.

“We were a rollercoaster tonight,” Century coach Nichelle Guillaume said. "We definitely had highs and lows, but we really buckled down and played pretty well in that fifth set. I'm proud of how we played together as a team and didn't give up.”

It was the high-leaping Decker who led the Panthers with 23 kills, many of them of the crushed variety. But she got plenty of help. Back-row players Megan Lund and Kaitlyn Meincke were both crucial with 48 assists and 44 digs, respectively. There was also towering Elise Jensen with 13 kills and four blocks, Brooke Meincke with 25 digs and Ella Zmolek with 19 digs.

Century needed all of that to finally get over that Mayo hump.

“We had to remind ourselves that every point is a battle,” Decker said. “In that fifth set, we just had to go and seize control. That was our opportunity and we seized it.”

In playing Mayo, Century wasn’t just taking on a rival, it was taking on a bunch of players who seem as much like sisters to them as anything.

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Many from these two teams join as Junior Olympic teammates during the non-high school volleyball season. They play matches together, and share rides and meals and on and on. This has gone on for years.

So, there is no hate there. But all of that familiarity brings out their competitive best.

For Century, it made Tuesday night a thrill.

“We play with all of these girls in the off-season, so really, we are playing against our friends,” Decker said. “That turns it into a battle but one where we respect each other. But against them, the energy is just so much fun.”

Century appeared to have had all but run out of energy in that fourth set. Mayo trounced it then, in what was an outlier of a set.

“You could see it on our faces in that fourth set that we just looked sad, like we’d already been defeated,” Guillaume said. “But then we knew that fifth set was make-it-or-break-it time. We just had to go out there and really get it. We had to fight for it until the end.”

Fight they did, as did Mayo, which rode terrific balance all night. Maria Winter had 18 kills; Madison Meyer 16 kills, 23 digs and 2 aces; Jadyn Lester 8 kills 27 assists and 16 digs; Alexa Carlstrom 38 digs; and Hannah Hanson 9 kills, 23 assists and 11 digs.

It looked like the Spartans were about to close things out and make it five straight years without a loss to Century. It led 14-13 in the fifth set, needing just one more point to walk away a winner.

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But Century answered. Three straight points by the Panthers and it was theirs. Century was a five-set winner.

Helping that along is that this Century team believes in itself more than any Panthers collection in recent memory. They have something special going on this year and they know it.

“We are more cohesive and we trust each other more this year than ever,” said Meincke, one of a host of Century all-Big Nine Conference players back from a year ago. “Tonight was a lot of fun. We just had to overcome some things and trust our teammates. We’re a team that is close, and we can do that.”

As for Mayo and its longtime coach Deb Frederick, all was not lost in falling to Century. Not by a long shot.

“ We knew going into this match that it was going to be a battle,” Frederick said. “Century has some of the best middle blockers in Minnesota. They are explosive and see the court well. It was a tough loss for us emotionally, but we will grow from our mistakes and acknowledge the great things we did and get back at it in practice tomorrow.”

Century 3, Mayo 2
Mayo#19#25#28#25#14
Century#25#21#26#12#16
Mayo: Gabrielle Buhrow 3 kills, 7 digs, 1 block; Alexa Carlstrom 38 digs, 1 ace; Hannah Hanson 9 kills, 23 assists, 11 digs, 1 ace; Madison Meyer 16 kills, 23 digs, 1 block, 2 aces; Jadyn Lester 8 kills, 27 assists, 16 digs, 1 block, 1 ace; Ava Miller 9 kills, 2.5 blocks; Claire Siems 2 digs; Maria Winter 18 kills, 6 digs, 1 block.
Century: Megan Lund 48 assists; Kaitlyn Meincke 44 digs, 4 aces; Brooke Meincke 25 digs; Ella Zmolek 19 digs; Paige Decker 23 kills; Elise Jensen 13 kills, 4 blocks.

Pat has been a Post Bulletin sports reporter since 1994. He covers Rochester John Marshall football, as well as a variety of other southeastern Minnesota football teams. Among my other southeastern Minnesota high school beats are girls basketball, boys and girls tennis, boys and girls track and field, high school and American Legion baseball, volleyball, University of Minnesota sports (on occasion) and the Timberwolves (on occasion). Readers can reach Pat at 507-285-7723 or pruff@postbulletin.com.
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