Stewartville throws block party
ST. PAUL — Stewartville was so happy to be back at the state volleyball tournament that it decided to throw a block party.
The Tigers missed out on a state tournament berth last season for just the fourth time since 1987. So they decided they were going to start this tournament off on the right foot, collecting 14 blocks in a 3-0 victory against Esko in a Class AA state quarterfinal game at Xcel Energy Center on Thursday.
After its 25-12, 25-20, 25-18 victory, Stewartville will play top-seeded Hutchinson (26-3) at 5 p.m. today in a state semifinal match.
Sophomore Hannah Tapp led the Tigers with six blocks, while Lindsay Blahnik had three and Lisa Flynn and Sarah Schrandt had two each.
"At the beginning of the season, it wasn't a strong point," Flynn, a senior hitter, said of Stewartville's blocking. "It's something we've practiced a lot. The Tapp girls (Hannah and twin sister Paige) are a big key; we move them around to where the other team's best hitter is."
Fourth-seeded Stewartville (26-5) was dominant at the net through the first two games, when it got a hand on nearly everything Esko sent its way. The Tigers frustrated Esko's top hitters, senior Lydia Pelletier and junior Stephanie Bandelin, who entered the match with a combined 397 kills this season. They combined for four kills in the opening game, when Esko had just a .061 hitting percentage.
"We were really good on the block in the first two games," Stewartville coach John Dzubay said. "The Tapp girls are getting a better idea of how to get over the net. They just have to penetrate the net, not always get so high over it."
Esko (28-2) was within 12-8 in the first game, when a block by Blahnik and Hannah Tapp started an 8-2 run that the Eskomos couldn't recover from. Stewartville closed the opening game with consecutive kills by Hannah Tapp and Blahnik.
Dzubay said taking an early lead, then going on to win the first game helped the Tigers relax and build confidence. He and Flynn agreed that having played three playoff matches at the spacious Mayo Civic Center also helped the Tigers adjust to playing in a big building.
"Those last two matches we played (in Rochester), against Byron (in the subsection final) and Caledonia (section championship), those were pressure matches," Dzubay said. "The matches you play to get to state sometimes cause more nerves than you have when you actually get here."
Esko turned the second and third games into better battles than the opener. The second game was tied 13-13, but Stewartville rattled off seven consecutive points with senior Christina Stanger serving and eventually built the lead to 23-15. Hannah Tapp closed the game by diving for a dig, then recovering and putting down a kill after a nice pass from setter Danielle DeGeus.
Esko was as close as two points, down 16-14, in game three, but the Tigers slowly went on a 9-4 run to end the match. Blahnik's 11th kill ended the game and the match.
Now the Tigers must turn their attention to top-seeded Hutchinson. For the Stewartville seniors, it's been a goal to get to this point since their season ended a year ago with a subsection championship game loss to Byron.
"Our seniors realized this year that we couldn't hold anything back," Flynn said. "We have to go for it every time out."
Stewartville 3, Esko 0
Esko: Stephanie Bandelin 13 kills; Alyson Glumac 7 kills, 2 blocks; Lydia Pelletier 5 kills, 6 digs; Delaney Pearson 6 digs; Keely Deadrick 26 assists, 2 aces.
No. 4 Stewartville: Katie Bauman 2 digs; Liz Waugh 3 digs; Lisa Flynn 6 kills, 9 digs, 1 ace, 2 blocks; Sarah Schrandt 2 kills, 2 digs, 2 blocks; Danielle DeGeus 33 assists, 6 digs; Lindsay Blahnik 11 kills, 3 digs, 3 blocks; Hannah Tapp 10 kills, 6 blocks, 3 digs; Brianna Behrens 3 digs; Paige Tapp 9 kills; Christina Stanger 5 digs.