BY ROB LAPLANTE
They may have not been the last team standing, but with 32 teams vying for the same tournament title, St. Michael-Albertville head coach Ryan Dehnel is happy with his team’s fifth-place finish at last weekend’s STMA Tournament.
The Knights began tournament play with two key wins on Friday. They knocked off St. Cloud Tech 25-12, 25-13 and later that night finished off No. 6 ranked Nevis, 25-20, 25-16.
The two wins, according to Dehnel was key for a couple obvious reasons. “Nevis is a top-ranked Class A team, so that was a big win,” he said. “With a lot of matches played over the weekend, it was a key for us to get out in two sets.”
Nevis was just one of a number highly ranked teams competing over the weekend. Class 3A powers Hopkins, Wayzata and Minnetonka were also in the tournament. Hopkins and Wayzata were ranked No. 5 and 6, respectively.
Saturday’s round three would turn out to be STMA’s only downfall the entire weekend. After winning the first set 25-19, the Knights dropped the next two sets 25-16, 15-10 to Minnetonka.
The Skippers would eventually finish in third place after a 2-0 win over Bemidji.
“The Minnetonka match was a fun one,” Dehnel said. “It was the first time this year to go up against a big-time Class 3A team. It was fun to see them battle.”
The loss meant the Knights needed to finish the rest of the tournament undefeated if they wanted to reach its goal. “In the beginning of the season, we said we wanted to try and finish in the top five in all the tournaments we played in,” said sophomore setter Malissa LeClaire.
Earlier this year, the Knights limped into the Southwest Minnesota Challenge and finished the tournament a disappointing with a 1-4 record. “We’re a lot healthier now and playing more consistent as a team,” LeClaire said.
The Knights bounced back from their loss to the Skippers by defeating Rogers 25-20, 25-16. It was the third time this season they defeated the Royals. They finished the tournament claiming fifth place. In a close battle, the Knights edged a tough Anoka squad 23-25, 25-13, 16-14.
“The Anoka win had major playoff implications,” Dehnel said. “They have played and defeated a lot of top teams in our section. The girls were pretty excited to close out with that win over Anoka.”
LeClaire had a big weekend dishing up passes and her efforts placed her on the All-Tournament team.
“I couldn’t have done it without my teammates,” she said. “Yeah, it would be nice to have that one go-to person. But the nice thing with our team is you have faith in whoever you set the ball up to that they can spike it and do the job.”
STMA improved its conference record to 7-1 and 13-8 overall after defeating Big Lake Monday night 25-16, 25-13, 25-20.
Thursday they host Cambridge-Isanti at 7 p.m. The final tournament comes this weekend at the Eastview Tournament. They will be one of 12 teams competing with three of the top 10 teams in Class 3A (Blaine, Eden Prairie, Chaska) also taking part.
“We like to schedule tough,” Dehnel said. “We don’t have that one overpowering offensive threat, so when we play tough competition, we need to play good team volleyball. Early in the season we weren’t able to do that, but it’s starting to come around.”