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State tournament was a rich one for KoMets

Kasson-Mantorville relished the competition as it landed second in the state volleyball tournament.

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Kasson-Mantorville players hug after the KoMets lost to Marshall in the Class AAA state volleyball championship match Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021, at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Andrew Link / Post Bulletin

The KoMets were there for one reason — the competition.

That’s what Kasson-Mantorville volleyball coach Adam VanOort lives for, and this K-M team is a definite extension of its coach.

It’s what made this past Wednesday, Friday and Saturday a blissful time for the KoMets, as they battled in the Class AAA state tournament at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, ultimately ending as state runners-up to No. 1-ranked and decided favorite Marshall.

K-M lost 27-25, 25-22, 25-16 to the Tigers, though the match was much more competitive than that final score suggests.

“To battle Marshall, it was awesome,” said K-M star outside hitter Annika Larson, one of four seniors on a KoMets team that finished 30-4. “They are hard to stop. But it’s so fun to play at that level. I’m most proud of how we didn’t care as much about the outcome. I’m just proud of the way we competed.”

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Kasson-Mantorville was playing in the state tournament for the second time in four seasons (there was no state event last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic). K-M finished third overall in 2018. Saturday marked just the second time the KoMets had ever made it to the state final.

To get there, they beat Sauk-Rapids Rice 3-0 on Wednesday in the quarterfinals, then New Prague 3-1 in Friday's semis. That set up a hotel stay on Friday night, K-M players arriving late in the evening at the Holiday Inn Express in Roseville, enjoying a meal prepared by the mothers of some KoMets' players, having their phones taken away so as to keep their focus, then congregating in a teammate’s hotel room and sharing mostly volleyball thoughts until bedtime.

“We bonded a lot through that experience,” Larson said. “We all met up in one room, and because we didn’t have any phones, it allowed us to interact a lot more. We weren’t Snapchatting. Phones are a distraction.”

The KoMets woke up to a hotel breakfast, then a practice at Hamline University, then lunch together. That set them up for their 5 p.m. championship match at Xcel Energy Center.

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Kasson-Mantorville's Madelyn Converse sets the ball during the Class AAA state volleyball championship match against Marshall on Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021, at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Andrew Link / Post Bulletin

And it was that match — as was the case with all three of K-M’s matches last week — that drove VanOort and his players. The pageantry and fun built around being in a state tournament was appreciated. But it was secondary.

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The competition was what made things so special for these KoMets.

“It’s the competition that I’m here for,” said VanOort, K-M’s head coach since 2014. “I put in the time preparing the kids mentally and skill-wise. After that, I like to see the product on the floor. I enjoy the competition and seeing the girls perform well, seeing all the hard work they put in pay off.”

This was a unique year for VanOort and his players. They were coming off a pandemic-shortened season in which there was no state tournament.

“It was so much fun to be at state,” K-M senior middle blocker Cassidy Thompson said. “Last year (due to COVID-19), we missed out on so many things. So much of the time, we were waiting for things to happen, and then they didn’t. For this to happen this year, it was amazing.”

Making their state-tournament run even more satisfying was that it wasn’t expected. Few were counting on a bunch of wins out of K-M this season. During the summer months, the KoMets — trying to replace seven graduated seniors from the season before — looked ragged.

But bit by bit, under VanOort’s tutelage, K-M turned into not just a good team, but a great one.

It made for a special season and a magical ending.

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Kasson-Mantorville head coach Adam VanOort talks to his team during the Class AAA state volleyball championship match against Marshall on Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021, at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Andrew Link / Post Bulletin

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