Tigers sweep Cards

MARSHALL – For the past decade, prep volleyball in Minnesota has largely been defined by two programs. Between them they have a combined 11 state titles (across three classes), including the past two championships in both Class A and AA, and six second place finishes. And while the last 10 years have been dominated by the Marshall Tigers and Bethlehem Academy Cardinals, Thursday night belonged to the Tigers.

Behind 18 kills and four blocks by senior outside hitter Kenzie Beekman and senior libero Hannah Bennett’s 1,000th career dig, the Tigers swept the Cardinals 25-10, 25-20, 25-20.

“I thought we came out and played with great energy and certainly great focus,” Marshall head coach Dan Westby said. “You can only sustain that for too long, however, and then some other things need to take over. We kind of fell into a couple ruts there midway between Games 2 and 3 where we just had too many unforced errors.”

Beekman also dug up 13 balls, but Bennett led the Tigers with 19 digs. Her 1,000th came early in the second set with Marshall trailing 8-3.

“I had no idea,” Bennett said of how close she was to reaching 1,000 career digs. “But we worked really well as a team tonight. We started off really strong but kind of relaxed there.”

Bennett, a three-year starter for the Tigers, is the latest in a long-line excellent liberos for Marshall. She often provides the first pass for the Tigers, vital to staying in system and keeping the offense flowing.

“We’ve been real fortunate to have some very good liberos over the years and Hannah is certainly right there with the best of them,” Westby said. “The thing about Hannah that we’ve always appreciated is that she’s a tireless worker. She’s very committed to what we’re trying to do as a team.”

As a team, the Tigers jumped out in front of Bethlehem Academy, based out of Faribault, 8-1 in the opening set and maintained their edge through a Cardinal injury.

With Marshall leading 16-5 in the opening game, Bethlehem Academy outside hitter Payton Schultz went down with a knee injury and did not return. Though the Tigers cruised to a win in Set 1 following the injury, the Cardinals managed to shake off any fears and gave Marshall all it could handle in Sets 2 and 3.

“Losing a major player like that in the first set and then being able to play the way they did really says a lot about their program,” Westby said. “To be honest we weren’t surprised. We knew they would battle and they certainly did.”

The Cardinals, ranked No. 1 in Class A, pushed the Tigers to their limit in the second and third sets.

Marshall spotted Bethlehem Academy a 5-0 lead to start Set 2, and could not even the game up until an ace by Bennett brought the score to 12-12. Bethlehem Academy regain the lead at 18-17 but Marshall tore off five straight points with Beekman serving to take a 22-18 lead and held on for the 25-20 win.

The Tigers trailed as late as 18-17 in Set 2 and 16-15 in Set 3 before rallying to win each set 25-20.

Rachel Sanow and Sydney Griffin combined for 37 set assists in Marshall’s 6-2 offense, with Sanow leading the Tigers with 21. She also had 13 digs and was 14-for-15 serving. Griffin was 14-for-14 with an ace and also slammed seven kills for Marshall.

“We wanted to play more like a team because we’ve kind of been lacking that. I think we came together well and meshed well,” Beekman said. “We just want to keep (the energy level) up and keep it going up to get better from here.”

The Tigers, ranked No. 1 in the Class AA poll, are now 2-0 on the season and continue their season-opening homestand on Tuesday. With wins over Alexandria and Bethlehem Academy, the Tigers are 2-for-2 against Cardinals. They will try to make it 3-for-3 when they host Fairmont the day after Labor Day.