PREP VOLLEYBALL: THREE-PEAT COMPLETE
ST. PAUL – The Marshall Tigers proved to be the best Class 2A team in Minnesota the last three years, completing a rare three-peat at the 2013 MSHSL Volleyball State Tournament on Saturday at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
The Tigers never dropped a set during the 2013 state competition, sweeping Mora (25-7, 25-7, 25-18), Fergus Falls (25-15, 25-14, 25-7) and Hill-Murray (25-13, 25-19, 25-16) to earn their third straight volleyball title and sixth in school history.
Marshall has made 25 trips to the state tournament, but this was the first time that the school won three straight championships. The feat puts the Tigers in an elite group of competitors as they are only the fifth volleyball team in Minnesota to ever record a state championship three-peat.
“I thought we served pretty tough and we stayed pretty focused through most of the match,” Marshall senior setter Rachel Sanow said about the championship contest. “We just played our best.”
Early on, the match appeared to be lopsided between the veteran Marshall team and the Hill-Murray Pioneers, who were making their first state tournament appearance, but the Maplewood team never gave up and battled with everything it had.
Kenzie Beekman struck down three straight kills to help lead the Tigers to a 7-2 lead in the first set and an ace serve from her gave MHS a 10-3 advantage before Hill-Murray collected points on a block, a tip and an ace serve.
After Lexi Saugstand earned a kill, Callie Graff added two kills and an ace block to put Marshall up 18-9. Marah Mulso hammered down the final play of the set, giving the Tigers a 25-13 win.
“Hill-Murray played hard,” Marshall head coach Dan Westby said. “You have to tip your hat to them. They did a good job.”
The Pioneers kept a one-point lead for the first part of the second set, recording several well-earned kills, blocks and ace serves. Back-to-back ace serves by Lauren Simonson gave Hill-Murray a 10-7 edge, forcing the Tigers to use a timeout.
“They hung in there tough, especially in that second set,” Westby said. “They’re a good team. To their kids’ credit, they kept swinging and they didn’t give us anything. I thought we had to earn a number of points.”
Marshall went on a 4-0 run to even the score at 11-all, but the Pioneers still wouldn’t let up. A kill from Raven Ousley-Brown and a net error on the Tigers gave Hill-Murray a 16-13 lead. But Marshall finally regrouped and took care of business on the court.
“They went back there and served tough and we needed to get a pass,” Marshall libero Hannah Bennett said. “Once we got our passing back on, the hitters were able to put it away.”
Beekman pounded down five straight kills to give the Tigers an 18-16 lead, which they would not relinquish the remainder of the match.
“We knew we had to go, start playing harder and play more together,” Beekman said. “We did just that and we came out on top.”
Mulso and Sydney Griffin combined for an ace block to keep the momentum rolling for Marshall. The Pioneers fought back, closing in on the score at 22-19, but a kill from Griffin, a Hill-Murray hitting error and a block from Griffin sealed the deal for the Tigers at 25-19.
“I think we were working hard, but in the second game, we let up a little bit and we let them think they had a chance,” Marshall right-side hitter Emma Doyle said. “We had to come out strong from our timeout to win that second game, and we did it. It was fun.”
Westby said he thought his team did a nice job of limiting errors in the first set, which put pressure on the Pioneers.
“That made it difficult for them,” he said. “We had a little bit of a lull in that second set and opened the door for them a little bit. Some of it was our errors and some of it was good play by Hill-Murray.”
At that point, Marshall swept over its opponent like a wildfire, as the reality of a three-peat drew near. The Tigers opened the third set with a 13-0 run behind the strong attacking performances from Beekman and Graff.
With a 19-8 advantage, the Marshall cheering section began its “three-peat” chant. Beekman found the open floor for a final kill, giving the Tigers a 25-16 set win and championship recognition.
“I thought we did a good job of regaining focus and really closing the door in that third set,” Westby said. “We talked about the fact that we needed to get back to what we were doing in that first set. We needed to re-focus and take care of the ball and once we did that, we were fine.”
Beekman collected a match-high 25 kills to go with 15 digs. Graff contributed eight kills, while Bennett, Stephanie Baker and Sanow added 22, 13 and 11 digs respectively. Griffin had 25 set assists, while Sanow chipped in 11.