It was still a great season. Mabel-Canton volleyball accomplished a lot in 2018. They won the SEC-East again, keeping their 100-plus-match league winning streak intact, doing so by twice fending off their biggest threat in a number of years, rival Spring Grove. The Cougars won the 1A East sub-section, going through perennial power Caledonia and the Lions (again). Lonnie Morken’s group got to 30 wins. Personal milestones were reached. Three very good players had very good senior years. But in M-C’s most realistic opportunity, in many years, to end a 17-year state drought, they fell agonizingly short. It’s a loss that will hurt for a long while.
M-C (1-seed, 29-5) first played for the 1A East title. For a fifth time, they and neighbor Spring Grove (2-seed, 26-3) went head-to-head. M-C started fast in game one (7-1) only to error too much and the Lions pulled even (9-9, 10-10, 11-11, 12-12). A trio of SG errors helped M-C to a 16-12 lead. The Lions got as close as 20-19, but M-C prevailed 25-21. Set two was a buzz-saw. After a 6-6 start, M-C finished 19-3. Maddy Michels had a seven-point serving season. M-C prevailed 25-9. Like game one, M-C led early in game three (11-2), but the Lions slowly fought all the way back to trail 20-19. M-C closed for a 25-21 win, the 3-0 sweep (25-21, 25-9, 25-21).
The Cougars grabbed their 30th win of the year and the 1A East title. After starting the year losing three of four sets to the Lions (all at the Cougars’ Labor Day Tourney), M-C won nine of the next 10. M-C’s big hitter was 5’9” junior middle hitter Sarina Stortz. She posted a game-high, career-high 17 kills (.366 hitting). Maddy Michels added 9 kills. Sophomore setter Kenidi McCabe (37 assists, 20 digs) went over 2,000 career helpers. Lexi Thorson (4 kills, 11 digs, 3 aces) and Payton Danielson (8 kills, 13 digs) did work all the way around. The later joined the former with over 1,000 career digs. Hannah Snell (10 digs) and Lauren Wyffels (11 digs) helped in the back-row. SG’s elite athlete, senior MH Mariah Edgington, was held somewhat in check (9 kills, 16 digs). Kailee Olerud (16 assists, 14 digs), Amelia Solum (14 digs), Maggie Lile (14 digs), and Alyssa Johnson (12 digs) also got to double-digits digs. SG’s superb season ends at 26-4, losses to Mabel-Canton, Mabel-Canton, Mabel-Canton, and Mabel-Canton!
M-C (East 1-seed, 30-5) then played Medford (West 1-seed, 26-5) for the Section 1A volleyball title. Hopes were high for the Cougars, but “sucks” describes the ending. Game one proved pivotal. In a set that saw 10 ties, it was the last M-C wished didn’t happen. The Cougars were at match-point 24-23. Medford then got a kill from MH Kinsey Cronin. The Tigers then got kills from their other two good hitters, Emma Kniefel and Rachael Luebbe for the 26-24 win. In retrospect, it’s a set M-C needed. In game two, the Cougars overcame an early 8-3 deficit to force eight mid-set ties. But Medford closed 8 to 4 for a 25-21 win. Down 2-0, it wasn’t out of the question M-C could comeback. They’ve done it before. In the third set, save for a four more ties, M-C led from start to finish for a 25-18 win. Game four again had M-C down early, by as many as five multiple times. Down 21-17, M-C went 4-0 for a 21-21 tie. But Medford scored the last four, getting a double-block for a 25-21 win, the Section title (26-24, 25-21, 18-25, 25-21). The Tigers finished with around 130 digs, M-C 142; every point very hard to come by. Medford’s three hitters, 5’11” Cronin (18 kills), 5’9” Knievel (15 kills, 36 digs), and 5’9” Luebbe (13 kills, 11 digs, 2 ½ blks) were the difference. Setter Morgan Langeslag (48 assists, 21 digs), libero Kiley Nihart (30 digs), and Izzy Reuvers (18 digs) also helped the effort. Stortz again led M-C’s offensive attack, setting another career-high with 19 kills (.298 hitting). She was the only Cougar over 5’6” to play in the match. Michels (10 kills, 9 digs, 5 blks, 18-18 serving) helped in the middle. Jordyn Newgard had 7 kills on the outside. M-C’s defense was fantastic, as McCabe (48 assists, 29 digs), Danielson (8 kills, 28 digs), Thorson (5 kills, 26 digs), and Snell (23 digs) all went over 20 digs. Wyffels added 15. Thorson came within three digs (1,551) of surpassing Jenni Aasum’s school-record (1,594). Mabel-Canton’s season ends at 30-6. The Cougars post their eighth 30-win season in the last 10. They graduate three good ones in Thorson (a five-year starter), Michels (four-year key player), and Snell (three-year key player). Not that she was guaranteed to make the difference, but it would’ve been nice if the Cougars had 5’9” junior OH Avery Davis (who suffered a serious knee injury early in the season).