Marshall begins defense of state titles

For the two-time defending Class AA volleyball champions, the quest for a potential three-peat begins tonight when the Marshall Tigers open their gym to the Alexandria Cardinals at 7:30 p.m.

The Tigers completed the 2012 season with an overall record of 29-5 and return 13 of 15 players from the repeat championship squad.

Included in that group is a highly-decorated senior class, including 2012 Independent Player of the Year Kenzie Beekman. Beekman, an outside hitter, joins fellow all-area selections in setter Sydney Griffin and libero Hannah Bennett for their final season under head coach Dan Westby. Emma Doyle, Rachel Sanow and Stephanie Baker also hope to turn their last year wearing the orange and black into one more gold medal.

“That senior group has had a lot of success and they’ve been a big part of that success that we’ve had the last few years,” Westby said. “It’s nice to have all that experience returning. We’ve got 13 of our 15 girls back from last year. It’s nice to have all that experience returning, but it’s not a guaranteed recipe for success. We still need to come into the gym every day with the purpose of getting better.”

Not returning for the Tigers are Class of 2013 graduates Angela Tauer and Maci Louwagie. The duo provided a triple threat of hitting, blocking and serving that helped set the tone for Marshall as it captured its fourth championship in the last six years and the school’s fifth volleyball crown.

Tauer finished second in the area with 59 service aces in 2012, while Louwagie totaled 45. Louwagie also had 42 ace blocks for the Tigers.

So far at practice, it has been an open competition to see who will see get the first crack at filling the openings in Marshall’s system vacated by the two graduates.

“We’ve got a number of kids who we’re looking to play in those spots,” Westby said. “Morgan and Lexi Saugstad both are actually competing for the same spot. We’ve got Jackie Petrich competing and Marah Mulso competing. Those kids are trying to fill those gaps that opened when Angela and Maci graduated.”

While tonight’s match against Alexandria (14-14 overall in 2012) is the season opener, the Tigers might face their toughest test of the regular season on Thursday.

Marshall’s second opponent of 2013 is Bethlehem Academy, the defending Class A champion out of Faribault with six state titles in the last decade. Marshall defeated Bethlehem Academy 3-1 last season in Faribault.

“We’ve got two quality opponents this week, fortunately they’re both at home,” Westby said. “One of the things we’ve talked about the last couple of weeks in practice is just that we need to come into the gym everyday with a purpose. And that purpose is we want to improve and get better. We can’t rest on what happened last year or the year before.

“We certainly feel good about what happened the last couple of years. But that’s in the past and we need to look ahead. I think the kids have some lofty goals, but those goals aren’t going to be achieved without effort and energy in practice everyday.”