It was a matchup between two of the best in state Class AAA: Fourth-ranked Kasson-Mantorville squaring off against second-ranked, as well as undefeated Stewartville.
It was one in which even the most casual volleyball fan was looking forward to and boy, did it not disappoint.
The KoMets re-found their aggression in the fourth set after losing it in sets two and three, before showing off some stellar defense to hand the Tigers their first loss of the season. It came in a five-set thriller, 25-22, 22-25, 18-25, 25-18, 15-7 in front of a sold-out crowd at Stewartville High School.
The win improved the KoMets to 20-3 overall and clinched a share of the Hiawatha Valley League title by dropping the Tigers to 16-1 and 6-1 in the conference.
Yet, after three sets it was the Tigers who appeared on their way to an outright conference title. After dropping the first set, they retook control by taking the next two sets behind some fluid offense and good defense with blocks up front. That's when KoMets' coach Adam VanOort had a little discussion with his team.
"Our coach really had a talk with us, and that's when he told us we need to hit the ball," junior hitter Whittney Deno said. "Pretty much we need to get aggressive."
The KoMets looked like a different team after that.
Much like in set one, senior setter Madelyn Converse was putting the hitters in perfect position where talented outside hitters in Deno, Annika Larson and Ellie Ask were waiting. And unlike sets two and three, the KoMets were attacking, not hesitating to pull the trigger against Stewartville's tall front line.
"We got pretty passive in the second and third sets offensively," VanOort said. "We were hoping they would mess up and that's just a bad way to approach volleyball.
"That fourth set is what I am used to seeing out of KoMet volleyball; we go on and attack the other team, so we just got back to our roots a little bit. I'm proud of them for being able to do that."
With their offense in full-attack mode, that's when their defense also stepped up their game. Senior libero Caitlynn Wanous was terrific throughout the night, seemingly always on the receiving end of a nasty spike from Stewartville standout Allison Elliott. She finished with 21 digs.
"It's the best feeling ever," Wanous said. "Just sitting there and digging them out, playing with all my friends."
Yet, she wasn't the only one on the defensive end.
In addition to being second on the team in kills with 24, Deno also had 16 digs, while Aryss McAdams added nine. The defensive effort left Stewartville shaking their head.
"We hit some good balls, they just would not let it hit the floor," said Stewartville coach John Dzubay, who was recognized before the game for winning his 1,000th career game. "Their defense was just fantastic. We had some good stuff, but we just couldn't find the opening."
It also didn't help that the Tigers were playing without 6-foot junior hitter and North Dakota State commit Arianna Blohm, who the team learned on Monday is out for the season with a stress fracture in her back. Without her, the Tigers turned to their other Division I commit in Elliott and she often delivered. She finished with a game-high 26 kills to go along with 19 digs.
"We went through her so much today," Dzubay said. "She was getting pretty tired toward the end. But she's the best hitter, so you have to work her."
Emily Lamb did her best to fill the shoes of Blohm, finishing with nine kills and 18 digs, but in the end it just wasn't enough to fend off the KoMets.
"It's a game of momentum and I thought we had some, but they just really upped their game," Dzubay said. "They just played better."
Kasson-Mantorville 3, Stewartville 2
Kasson-Mantorville: Madelyn Converse 54 assists, 3 aces; Annika Larson 25 kills; Ellie Ask 7 kills; Whittney Deno 24 kills, 16 digs; Caitlyn Wanous 21 digs; Ella Babcock 5 kills; Aryss McAdams 9 digs, 2 aces; Abby Distad 11 assists.
Stewartville: Alyssa Ruffridge 7 kills, 2 blocks; Allie Elliott 26 kills, 19 digs, 2 aces; Emily Lamb 9 kills, 18 digs, 2 aces; Kylie Smidt 22 digs; Avery Spencer 8 kills, 2 blocks; Hilary Minnich 42 assists, 16 digs, 2 blocks; Hannah Martinson 12 digs.