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Cardinals volleyball picks up first CLC victory over St. Cloud Apollo

Emily Kuennen goes for the kill against St. Cloud Apollo defenders last Thursday night. (Blaze Fugina/Echo Press)

After playing the 2012 Class AA state champions in the season's first match, the Alexandria volleyball team had an easier time in a three set victory against St. Cloud Apollo on Thursday.

The Cardinals were 1-1 after beating St. Cloud Apollo at home in their first conference match of the season. The team felt more confident heading into the second match with a tough first one already in the books.

"Between the two different games, I would say their play was pretty similar," head coach Becky Schlichting said. "We definitely had a lot more confidence going into this match than we did against Marshall, just because they've been together as a team for a match and they are ready to go."

One of the strengths for the Cardinals so far this season has been their depth in the lineup. Liz Schultz led the offense with 17 kills against St. Cloud Apollo on Thursday. In their match against Marshall last Tuesday, the team's offense was led by Amanda Christianson with six kills and Emily Kuennen with five. Seniors Christianson and Kuennen are captains this season along with senior Jackie Lamb and junior Amanda Haack.

"I think one of our big strengths is that we are very well rounded offensively," Schlichting said.

Amanda Haack fueled the Cardinal offense on Thursday with 34 assists. Gretchen Watkins led the defense with 10 digs, followed by Kalley Bistodeau with nine.

Christianson and Kuennen said the team was excited to start their season playing Marshall. They felt competitive in the match; especially in the close first set which they lost only by two points.

Playing one of the toughest teams in the state also showed the Cardinals what they need to work on the rest of the season.

"We were really pumped to play Marshall, it's good to see who our competitors are early in the game and it gets us excited to see them again," Kuennen said.

The Cardinals are relying on newcomers to the varsity this season after losing nine letter winners from last year. They expect their experienced players to act as leaders throughout the season.

"Three seniors and a bunch of juniors this year, so we're working to be really good leaders and kind of build the team up," Kuennen said.

After two games, the Cardinals feel they have enough talent to compete for the Central Lakes Conference. Last season they were 8-4 against CLC teams and finished tied for second with Willmar.

"Absolutely, there's not a doubt in my mind that we can be contenders for that top of the conference or that top of the section," Schlichting said. "We have work to do to get there, as any team does. But it is [within reach]."

The players feel the same way.

"That's a given, every year it's our goal to win the conference and go to state," Christianson said.

After their match against St. Cloud Apollo, the Cardinals were looking ahead to their first weekend tournament this season. The Cardinals played in the Eden Prairie tournament last Saturday. The tournament offered the opportunity to compete with tougher opponents from the Twin Cities metro.

"We're excited to play better competition than our conference," Christianson said. "So we can see what we can do and what we need to work on."

The next conference match for the Cardinals is 7:30 p.m. on Thursday against St. Cloud Tech in St. Cloud.

GAME STATISTICS

ALEXANDRIA 25 25 25 — 3

ST. CLOUD APOLLO 19 19 9 — 0

ALEXANDRIA — Amanda Haack — 2 kills, 34 set assists, 1 ace, 5 digs; Kalley Bistodeau — 7 kills, 2 aces, 9 digs; Emily Kuennen — 4 kills; Amanda Christianson — 8 kills, 2 set assists, 1 ace, 2 digs, 1 block; Wensia Johnson — 7 kills, 3 digs; Liz Schultz — 17 kills, 3 digs, 1 block; Gretchen Watkins — 10 digs

Blaze Fugina
Blaze Fugina is the sports editor at the Pierce County Herald. Before working at the Herald, Blaze was a sports reporter at the Alexandria Echo Press for one year and 10 months. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls in May of 2011. You can follow Blaze on Twitter at @BlazeFugina.
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