Last year stung. Venerable Mabel-Canton volleyball had a legitimate chance at making their first state appearance in over a decade. Medford snatched away the dream, beating the Cougars in the Section title match 3-1 (24-26, 21-25, 25-18, 21-25). The Tigers, who finished as State Runner-Up, were better that day. This season, Lonnie Morken’s girls again pushed for that elusive state berth. They came oh-so-close to pulling a big come-from-behind win. But the Tigers were again better, though not by much. They were better offensively in the deciding fifth-set, longer and thus more unstoppable. The Cougars fought and scraped and clawed and defended and defended, willed their way, only to come up a few points short. This year is a hundred stings.
It was a huge week for M-C no matter the ending (which was a tremendous effort). The #6 in Class A Cougars (1-seed, 33-2) again claimed the 1A East crown, beating 11-0 TRC champion #9 in Class A Caledonia (2-seed, 25-6). M-C had to fight and hustle, scrap and claw, defend and defend, mostly 6’2” senior MH Lydia Lange. Warrior coach Scott Koepke’s offensive approach wasn’t complex. Set the gifted hitter as often as possible, given she has five-plus inches on nearly every Cougar player. And when she wasn’t the offensive focal point, high-jumping hard-hitting Alexis Simpson was. The Warriors used 11 combined kills from the duo to take game one 25-19. Caledonia finished on a 7-1 run, breaking an 18-18 tie. Cougars Payton Danielson and Kenidi McCabe combined for 26 digs. M-C then adjusted, particularly its blocking. They started game two quick (6-1), only for the Warriors to rally (8-8). M-C spurted again (12-8), only for Cal to rally (12-12). With it 14-14, a handful of concurrent Cal errors put M-C ahead 18-14. They led 23-18 only to hold-off a late Warrior surge. A defensive pancake set up a Jordyn Newgard kill for the game two win, 25-23. Game three was like game two, M-C out quick (6-3), Cal rally (8-8), M-C spurt (12-8), Cal rally (took lead 15-14). Cougar Molly Lee’s kill then forced the second to last side-out (15-15). Lauren Wyffels promptly served nine straight points including three aces (24-15). M-C won 25-16. McCabe had a huge set (6 kills, 9 assists, 9 digs). Game four featured a match-high 12 ties. It came down to Sarina Stortz versus Lange. M-C’s senior middle was oft responsible for blocking Cal’s best weapon. When most needed, Stortz scored with two ace blocks, plus a kill, over M-C’s final three points. She spurred the Cougars to a hard-fought 3-1 victory (19-25, 25-23, 25-16, 26-24). It was M-C’s 16th straight “W.” They had 135 digs (season-high 33.8 per set). McCabe was everywhere (season-high 14 kills, .316 hitting, 32 assists, season-high 39 digs). She had seven-plus digs every set, easily double-digit one-armed digs. Danielson (season-high 14 kills, 29 digs) was strong all-the-way around. Stortz was also key (11 kills, team-season-high 7 ½ blks). Lee (8 kills, 17 digs), Newgard (6 kills, 17-17 serving, 10 digs), Wyffels (11 assists, 15 digs, 3 aces) and Kaylor Soiney (season-high 18 digs) helped. Lange (20 kills, 12 digs) and Simpson (13 kills, 27 digs) had 33 of Caledonia’s 42 kills. Haley Jennings (40 assists, 27 digs) was the Warriors third stand-out. All are seniors.
The win set up a re-match of 2018’s section title match, East champ #6 M-C (34-2) versus West champ #7 Medford (23-8). The Tigers lost just one key player off last year’s state team, filling the void with an All Big 9 HM transfer from Owatonna. Medford controlled the first 1 ¾ sets, taking game one 25-14 and building a 24-17 lead in game two. M-C rallied late, scoring six straight (24-23). Tiger 6’0” middle Kinsey Cronin ended the set with a kill (25-23). Like last year, M-C looked up at a 0-2 deficit. But Cougar volleyball never quits. Medford also led #8 Kenyon-Wanamingo 2-0 in the West finals while being at 24-18 in game three, only to lose that set and need five to subdue the Knights. The Cougars hustled and defended in game three, taking a 16-9 lead, only for it to get whittled to 16-15. Cronin had four kills and block over a six-point Tiger run. But Stortz then scored twice in succession (18-15). With it 19-18, the Cougars finished on a 6-1 run for the 25-19 win. Game four saw M-C at its most dominant. Their constant determined defensive work seemed to wear on the Tigers. The Cougars built leads of 16-8 and 23-14. Danielson put one down thru a block to give M-C a 25-20 win, sending an epic match to a fifth set. The deciding game had six ties up to seven. In a sick twist of fate (happened before, see Faribault B.A), it came down to the transfer. After eight the first four games, 5’10” senior OH Alyvia Johnson (formerly of Owatonna) had five emphatic kills in game five. The Tigers built a lead (12-8). M-C rallied (down 13-12). Cronin then scored with a kill (14-12). Clara Kniefel subsequently blocked down a Cougar attack. A match that was all about endurance, ended in a heartbeat, heartbreak. Cougar tears hit the court quickly. Medford grabbed its second consecutive 1A title, 3-2 (25-14, 25-23, 19-25, 20-25, 15-12). McCabe notched her second triple double in any many games (13 kills, season-high 47 assists, 37 digs). Stortz went out on high (season-highs 21 kills, 13 digs). She had five kills in the fifth set, M-C’s last four points. Danielson (7 kills, 30 digs), Lee (6 kills, 18 digs), Emily Carolan (season-high 7 kills, 10 digs), Newgard (5 kills, 24 digs), and Wyffels (13 digs, 16-16 serving) all battled and scratched and clawed and defended. The first four had a season-high dig totals. Cronin (22 kills), Johnson (13 kills), 5’10” MH Emma Kniefel (11 kills, 29 digs), setter Morgan Langeslag (58 assists, 23 digs), Izzy Reuvers (29 digs) and libero Kiley Nihart (31 digs) led Medford. M-C’s was maybe the best collective (uphill) team effort put forth by a Journal covered squad (only paralleled by R-P boys basketball’s state title game win in 2015). In a sport where height matters, a bunch of 5’4” to 5’6” girls competed near-equally with a bunch of 5’9” to 6’0” girls. M-C finishes a fantastic season at 34-3, as repeat 1A Runner-Up. Danielson, Stortz, and Avery Davis are the seniors. Next year will be the last season of three class volleyball. In 2020, the state goes to four classes.