STMA volleyball earns share of M-8 title: Gear for playoffs

STMA head coach Ryan Dehnel rallies the troops, as he leads the co-Mississippi 8 Conference champs into the section playoffs. (Photo by Rob LaPlante)

STMA head coach Ryan Dehnel rallies the troops, as he leads the co-Mississippi 8 Conference champs into the section playoffs. (Photo by Rob LaPlante)

BY ROB LAPLANTE

Sports Reporter

 

The St. Michael-Albertville volleyball team had Oct. 16th circled on its calendar for nearly a month.

It was the rematch with Buffalo – the only team in the Mississippi 8 Conference to defeat the Knights this season. The Bison were also the only team not to suffer a conference loss heading into last Tuesday’s match.

On a night where Buffalo’s all-conference middle hitter Kylee Zumach had a record-setting 41 kills in the Sept. 20th win at STMA, the Knights were ready for the rematch. So much so that STMA head coach Ryan Dehnel had a special game plan just to try and shut her down.

“We did game plan differently for (Zumach),” Dehnel said. “We matched Courtney Wooters up against her. With Courtney taking away the line pretty effectively, Zumach tried to go cross court at Candice Yager and that worked out well for us too.”

Like most great players, Zumach still had her kills. The Wisconsin-bound senior still finished with 28 for the match, but the Knights had a gritty come-from-behind third set win that gave them the momentum to pull out a 3-1 win.

After splitting the first two sets 25-22, 22-25, STMA fell behind in set three 24-19. Thanks to some timely hits and Buffalo miscues, the Knights rallied, stealing the third set 27-25.

“That was a huge difference maker for the match,” Dehnel said. “It was a mix of our kids stepping up and Buffalo making a couple unforced errors. That gave us the boost for the fourth set and our passing and defense took over.”

The Knights took the deciding fourth set 25-15 and with that, earned a share of the conference title with the Bison.

“The girls were really excited,” Dehnel said. “Conference was one of our three main goals and to win it in the final match of the year on their home court was awesome.”

Two days later, the Knights finished the regular season with a non-conference home match against the same Blaine team they lost 2-0 the previous weekend at the Eastview Tournament.

The Bengals (26-1) are ranked No. 2 overall in Class 3A and are the No. 1 seed in the Section 5AAA playoffs.

Much like the first meeting, Blaine’s overall depth was too strong. The Knights lost in three sets 25-22, 25-20, and 25-17. Four Blaine players finished with double digits in digs. Blaine star Katherine Hawkins had a triple-double. She finished had 29 service returns, 15 digs, 12 assists and added eight kills.

STMA senior Jennifer Olejar had eight kills. Sophomore Malissa LeClaire had 20 assists and 12 digs.

Knights earn No. 3 seed in section playoffs

A top-four seed means STMA earned an all important first-round bye and a home match in round two of the Section 5AAA playoffs.

The No. 3 seed Knights (17-12 overall) will host Tuesday’s Centennial/Spring Lake Park winner on Thursday night at 7 p.m.

Blaine is the No. 1 seed, followed by Osseo, STMA and Totino-Grace. Winner of Thursday’s match will face the winner of Osseo, Champlin Park or Coon Rapids at 5 p.m. of the highest seed on Halloween night.

“We know we have to put together a special effort,” Dehnel said. “The convincing wins over Prior Lake and Stewartville have added to our team confidence against good teams and good players.”

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