Alex volleyball: Big expectations remain with six seniors at the core
Alexandria volleyball head coach Becky Schlichting and her players didn’t want to use the fact they were playing Class AA’s top-ranked team in the season opener as an excuse for why the end result was a 3-0 loss.
The Cardinals have opened up against perennial power Marshall for years. Win or lose, it’s a solid test right out of the gate and it was no exception on Tuesday night. Alexandria played with the Tigers in two of the three sets but that left them feeling like they let one slip away against the defending Class AA state champions.
“Last year was very hard and this year was a little different,” senior outside hitter Kalley Bistodeau said of opening up against Marshall again. “We knew we could have beat them, but I think our nerves got the best of us a couple games.”
Liz Schultz led Alexandria with 11 kills, while Bistodeau and Brooke Swanson each finished with seven. Amanda Haack set them up with 26 assists and Gretchen Watkins had a team-high 15 digs.
It wasn’t enough as a couple late leads slipped away for the Cardinals. Alexandria led most of the way in the second set and held a 20-18 lead. The Tigers rallied from there with a 7-3 run that ended things 25-23 for a 2-0 advantage.
The third set played out almost exactly the same. The Cardinals led much of the game and were one point away from forcing a fourth set at 25-24. An unforced error on a serve into the net turned the momentum back to Marshall.
The Tigers’ Lexi Saugstad had an emphatic kill down the stretch that made it 27-26. A return that sailed out of bounds by Alexandria then ended it on the next point as the Tigers finished off the sweep with a 28-26 win. The first set was all Marshall in a 25-12 win.
“I think a lot of it was within our control,” Schlichting said of losing those leads. “We made some uncharacteristic errors throughout with serving, hits out of bounds and things like that. We just need to make sure we’re playing our game and that we’re in control of the situation. We can’t control what they do, but we can control what we do.”
Bistodeau said there were definitely some nerves at play in the first match against a good opponent in brand new facilities at Alexandria Area High School. The Cardinals wanted to open the new era at AAHS with a win, but a few too many unforced errors down the stretch against a team like Marshall was too much to overcome.
“First game, first home game, we obviously wanted to win it,” Bistodeau said. “But it was fun. It really was. It shows us that we can be confident and I think we’re ready for a really good season.”
The Cardinals have high expectations again after returning six seniors from a team that made the section title match in 2013.
Bistodeau is one of those seniors and said she feels it’s on them to help lead the Cardinals by keeping a positive approach throughout every match. Schlichting is putting a lot on that group because she believes they are ready to handle that responsibility.
“My expectations are high for that group of seniors,” Schlichting said. “I expect them to lead in matches like this and I expect them to learn to be mentally tough and to take matches like this where we’re close, where we’re playing back and forth. This crew typically has a lot more energy, and I’m looking for them to start showing that.”
The Cardinals will have to adjust a little bit without junior Wensia Johnson in the front row as a dominant hitter. She is not playing this season, which means Alexandria has to find a way to fill that void.
“That loss is just going to kind of change our team dynamic,” Schlichting said. “We have great girls with great ball control that can do a fantastic job on the court. The offensive threat is a little bit different than we had before so we’re just working hard to kind of find the new dynamics of our team. We can keep the ball on the court, we can hit it hard. We just need to make sure we’re doing that consistently. We’re going to find longer rallies that we need to be able to push through and execute on.”
The focus for this group will be on executing more consistently so that the close losses like they had against Marshall turn into wins down the road.
“Working hard in the back row is probably the biggest thing,” Bistodeau said of an area that can improve. “You can’t have a hard hit without a pass, so we need to stay low on defense and work hard in the back row.”
Expectations are ultimately the same for this group with so much experience back. The Cardinals want to compete for their second straight Central Lakes Conference title and get back to the section title match. They lost to Moorhead in four sets in that match a year ago.
Bistodeau figures the Spuds will be good again this year. The Cardinals know they should be too and will use every match as a chance to get better so they’re playing their best volleyball come late October.
“It is definitely something that we talk about often,” Schlichting said of winning a section title. “It’s something that we need to obviously keep in the far distance and keep the immediate games in the spotlight. Every game that we play gets us one step closer to that. It gets us the seeding for our section that we want. It makes us a better team. We really talk about competing against ourselves every night, making sure we are bettering our best. Right now, this was our best and we need to come out and make sure we play better.”
Marshall 3, Alexandria 0
(25-12, 25-23, 28-26)
ALEXANDRIA STATS - Haack - 3 kills, 26 assists, 3 aces, 11 digs, 3 block assists; Bistodeau - 7 kills, 1 ace, 9 digs; Abby Pohlen - 1 kill, 1 solo block; Swanson - 7 kills; Morgan Melrose - 2 kills, 1 ace, 9 digs; Schultz - 11 kills, 1 ace, 4 digs, 1 solo block, 2 block assists; Watkins - 15 digs; Alexis Stern - 5 digs, 5 block assists; Katie Dolan - 1 assist, 8 digs