It was and will always be a memorable and monumental year for Mabel-Canton volleyball. The Cougars finally got to showcase their skills on the state stage, an overdue occurrence. M-C didn’t have the length and depth of hitter to make the championship match, but they battled and ended the year as one of just two teams in Class A to win their final game. A state trophy will come back to Mabel-Canton High School along with a lot of memories. In maybe the feel-good story of the year, a small group of battle-tested kids led by enthusiastic coaching guru finished as the third best Class A team in the state. They did their program, their communities, and all the M-C girls who battled and were resilient before them (but missed out on the state experience) proud.
Mabel-Canton (3-seed, Section 1A Champ, 34-2) began its state adventure taking on Pine River-Backus (unseeded, Section 5A Champ, 27-4). It wasn’t M-C’s quickest match of the year, but a motto for it could be, “beat PR-B, ASAP.” The Cougars weren’t as top notch as versus Faribault B.A. in the 1A finals. Freshman middle Kinley Soiney, who had 38 kills versus the Cardinals, had three hitting errors to one kill in game one. But it didn’t matter. The Cougars served strong, getting Pine River-Backus out of rhythm often. And the Tigers errored often. PR-B (51 of 58, 87.9%) had three more service errors than the Cougars (70 of 74, 94.6%) on less attempts. They also had 27 hitting errors to M-C’s 11. PR-B hit .063 while the Cougars hit .177. The Tigers latest lead for the match was 14-13 in game one. Said set had eight ties up to 14-14 before the Cougars built to a 24-19 lead. The Tigers staved off three set points but fell 25-22. PR-B led 5-4 in game two before an 8-2 M-C run. Lydia Vatland served six of those points. PR-B made a push, closing to down 17-16, but Saijal Slafter ended it with a tip kill. A couple Tiger errors and a Kailey Ingvalson ace followed, as M-C went up 21-16. They prevailed 25-20. The third set saw PR-B lead 6-3 early only for M-C to score 12 of the next 15 to lead 15-9. They cruised to a 25-15 win, a 3-0 sweep (25-21, 25-20, 25-15). Slafter (14 kills, 2 ace blocks) was the top hitter followed by Soiney (10 kills). Sahara Morken (29 assists, 12 digs) set and MaKenzie Kelly (22 digs) defended. Sophie Morken (4 kills, 18 digs, Ingvalson (4 kills, 15 digs), and Vatland (9 digs, 20-22 serving) helped. Pine River-Backus was led by 5’10” All-State hitter Hannah Barchus (game-high 16 kills, 14 digs). Averie Sawyer (7 kills) and Brianna Hanneken (7 kills) helped on offense. Alaura Dahl had 31 assists and 12 digs. Cate Travis led all players with 23 digs. The 35th win tied a school record for the Cougars.
The #5 Cougars (3-seed, 35-2) moved on to the state semis versus #3 Mayer Lutheran (2-seed, 27-5, Section 2A Champs). The Crusaders were a tall test, the defending state champions (who posted a 21-0 set record in last year’s playoffs). They boasted two All-State hitters. For one set, M-C gave them a battle. The Cougars dominated game one, harkening back to the match with Faribault B.A. for the 1A title. Sahara Morken had great chemistry with middles Slafter and Soiney (13 combined kills). M-C jumped out 5-1 and never trailed, taking the game 25-15. But the Crusaders made adjustments and they controlled the next three sets. ML jumped out 7-1 in game two and cruised to a 25-14 win. All-state hitters Gabby Wachholz and Madeline Guetzkow combined for nine kills. Game three was close early. M-C led 9-7 only to give up a 9-1 run to fall back 16-10. The Crusaders took the set 25-17, out-killing M-C 15 to 2. Game four saw ML jump out 13-3 and cruise to a 25-13, the 3-1 win (15-25, 25-14, 25-17, 25-13). Standouts Wachholz, a 5’9” senior OH (16 kills, 15 digs), and Guetzkow, a 6’0” senior setter/OH (12 kills, 24 assists, 19 digs) did big work. But other Crusaders combined for a strong 26 kills. Isabelle Keaveny (28 assists, 21-21 serving, 3 aces) led ML in assists. Stella Maass had 19 digs. M-C was led by Soiney (14 kills) and Slafter (13 kills), set up by Sahara M. (29 assists, 16 digs). All other Cougars totaled 10 kills. Kelly had a team-best 27 digs. Ingvalson added 12 digs. M-C got out-killed 58 to 37 and out aced nine to three. ML’s top seven players all were at least 5’8” with four 5’10” or taller. The loss ended M-C’s 14-game win streak.
The defeat put the Cougars (3-seed, 35-3) in the third-place match with Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa (Section 6A Champ, 26-7). Like the two teams before it, the Jaguars featured a big All-State hitter in 6’0” Ava Mueller. M-C had to again use its serving, defense, and smart attacking to off-set another taller team. Set one had eight early ties before Sahara M. ripped off a two ace, six-point service scoring run. M-C ran 7-0 to lead 18-12. B-B-E closed to down 22-20 late, but a Jaguar service error, a Morken/Slafter block, and a Slafter kill gave the Cougars the match 25-20. B-B-E then regrouped big time in set two, ripping to a 15-4 lead. Five Jaguars had multiple kills in the game. The Cougars scored six straight to make it 17-15. But B-B-E scored eight of the final nine points for the 25-16 win, evening the match 1-1. Each team then settled in. Sets three and four were both hyper-competitive. Game three had 14 ties. Each team’s top hitter was strong, as Soiney had six kills for the Cougars, Mueller eight for the Jaguars. M-C was at set point 24-23, but a Mueller kill tied things. An M-C error and another Mueller kill gave B-B-E the set 26-24, as they took a 2-1 lead. Game four followed a similar pattern. It went back-and-forth and had nine ties.
M-C at one point led 22-19 and then 23-21, but kills from Mueller and 5’10” senior MH Abby Berge tied things at 23. A Berge/Allison Dingmann combo-block put B-B-E at game/match point, up 24-23. But a Jag hitting error and a Soiney ace block on Mueller then put M-C at match point, 25-24. Mueller tied things, but a Soiney free ball kill, and a B-B-E hitting error gave M-C the set, 27-25. The Cougars forced a game five. Ingvalson, after just one kill in the first three games, had four in the set (as the Cougars set outside some to combat multiple blockers on middles Soiney and Slafter). And why wouldn’t things go five sets in the last match of the year? One more resilient marathon Cougar win would just be fitting. M-C bared down and played strong to achieve one last goal. They began set five 6-2. With it 6-4, M-C scored three in a row to lead 9-4. Soiney from Sahara M. produced five kills in the game. B-B-E cut a 13-7 M-C lead to 13-10, but a Soiney kill put M-C at game point, 14-10. One point later, Soiney scored again. It gave M-C the set 15-11, the match 3-2 (25-20, 16-25, 24-26, 27-25, 15-11). The Cougars grabbed the third-place trophy! Soiney (28 kills), Sahara M. (49 assists, 13 digs, 30-32 serving, 5 aces), and Slafter (12 kills, 7 digs) led the way. Sophie M. (6 kills, 21 digs), Kelly (26 digs), and Ingvalson (7 kills, 13 digs) were key help. Vatland (7 digs) had an ace and a near-ace mid-way through set five. B-B-E was led Mueller (25 kills, 26 digs), Berge (9 kills, 28 digs), setter Kylie Weller (54 assists, 14 digs), Brooklyn Fischer (13 kills, 22 digs, 5 total blks, 16-16 serving, 3 aces), and Adley Hagen (11 kills). The teams served excellently, M-C 102 of 106 (96.2%), B-B-E 104 of 108 (96.3%). B-B-E had 62 kills to M-C’s 53, but seeded a few points in every error department including three more hitting and three more ball handling errors.
M-C finishes the year 36-3. It was a watershed season. They set the Cougar volleyball win record, beating 2015 (35-3). They posted six wins (6-2) versus teams ranked in the final top 10 poll; #4 Faribault B.A., #6 K-W, #7 Badger-Greenbush-Middle River, #8 MACCRAY, and #9 Spring Grove (twice). M-C played against 11 (of 18) Class A All-State players; Barchus (PRB), Guetzkow (Mayer), Wachholz (Mayer), Mueller (B-B-E), Addyson McHugh (SG), Kate Trump (B.A.), Tessa Erlandson (K-W), Cassie Dahl (B-G-MR), Jade Reese (B-G-MR), Sydney Thein (MACCRAY), and Lyvia Misegades (Henning). Five of M-C’s seven post-season matches went at least four sets. They played six post-season sets that went extra volleyball. Sophomore Sahara Morken and frosh Kinley Soiney were named to the All-Tournament team. And all of that was done with essentially a team of ‘B-squad’ aged players. Only Sophie Morken and McKenzie Kelly are seniors. M-C has no juniors. Six sophomores and two freshmen compose the rest of the team. Coach Morken closed the season nearing 800 total wins. Mayer Lutheran fell to #1 Minneota 3-2 (25-23, 25-23, 20-25, 19-25, 18-16) in the state title match.