Tigers not scared by Cards

MARSHALL – Back on the floor for the first time since claiming their second consecutive Class AA state championship in November, the Marshall Tigers volleyball team avoided an early scare from the Alexandria Cardinals.

The Tigers led 24-17 in the opening set when the Cardinals fired off six straight points. Alexandria was called for a lift before it could tie the set, however, and the Tigers rallied around their win to claim the match in straight sets 25-23, 25-11 and 25-16.

Marshall head coach Dan Westby called the first set a grind as the Tigers, returning 13 of 15 players from their 2012 championship squad, shook off the rust in their opening match of the 2013 season.

“It was a grind, we had to grind some things out. I thought we went through a stretch there in that first set where we just made too many hitting errors,” Westby said. “Once we were able to clean some of those up, life was a whole lot easier. But we just weren’t taking care of the ball, we weren’t keeping balls in play and that enabled them to come back.”

Westby credited fearless play by the Cardinals, along with predictability in their setting, with causing the Tigers some troubles in Set 1; but a more balanced approach offensively helped the Tigers power past Alexandria for the sweep.

Five Tigers had five kills or more, led by senior Sydney Griffin with 10. Outside hitter Kenzie Beekman hammered in seven kills, while middle hitters Callie Graff and Marah Mulso had six kills and Emma Doyle added five.

Griffin also led the team in serving (17-for-19 with an ace) and set assists (21), while chipping in with 13 digs.

Westby said that the Tigers need players like Griffin and Beekman, who added seven digs and three service aces to her seven kills, to be leaders on the floor each night if the team is going to maintain their customary level of high play.

“We need those kids to be solid every night. We’ve got a lot of experience and because of that we need those kids to be solid,” Westby said.

One of six seniors on the team, Griffin said that the chance to play a competitive match was overdue.

“We’ve been practicing hard for two weeks so it was good to see someone other than our B squad on the other side,” she said.

Four of Griffin’s 10 kills came in the second set, as Marshall outscored Alexandria 20-6 after a Mulso kill tied the game a 5-5. Included in that run was a closing stretch where Marshall scored eight points to Alexandria’s one.

An 11-2 disparity in scoring in favor of Marshall in the middle of Set 3 helped the Tigers take a 20-10 lead in the final game. It was Mulso, a sophomore seeing her first significant playing time at the varsity level, who stood out in the third set, as four of her six kills came in that set.

“I was really nervous but my team has been really supportive and encouraging me,” Mulso said. “We’ve done a lot of work in practice so I was pretty ready for this game.

“It was really fun to get out there with my team. I really enjoy playing with them and it was a fun time.”

Mulso also had two ace blocks, as did Doyle, but Westby said that overall the Tigers struggled at the net defensively against Alexandria and that they must improve before Thursday’s match-up with Bethlehem Academy.

“We didn’t think we blocked very well tonight and that’s something that we need to do a better job of before Thursday. We don’t have a lot of time to fix it,” Westby said.

Another area the Tigers (1-0 overall) can focus on for their match against the defending Class A champions from Faribault is communication.

“We were maybe a little bit tight, especially when the score got close, but we really shouldn’t be with the experience that we have. I thought there were some situations out there where we just weren’t vocal, at all,” Westby said. “The sad part was that the closer the score got, the less vocal we were and it should be the reverse. When the score is close we should be at our peak in terms of vocalizing.”

The No. 1 ranked teams in both Class AA and Class A are set to begin their match in Marshall at 7:15 p.m. on Thursday.