Volleyball preview: Card girls will face Wayzata in Class AAA state openerFans of the Alexandria volleyball team are getting used to this.
By: By Eric Morken, Sports Reporter, Alexandria Echo Press
Fans of the Alexandria volleyball team are getting used to this.
The Cardinals secured their 11th trip to the state tournament with their three-game sweep over Moorhead last Friday night. They went into the match having lost twice to the Spuds during the regular season. On Friday night, when the stakes were at their highest, it was the Cardinals who played like the superior team against the top seed in the Section 8AAA Tournament.
“I don’t know if we thought we were the better team,” senior middle hitter Angela Christianson said. “But we knew we could win it if we played our hardest, played well, played as a team. We just wanted it so bad. I don’t think they wanted it as much as us. Our confidence level was really high.”
Head coach Becky Schlichting disagrees. Even after losing to the Spuds in the regular season, she felt she had the better team. But that meant nothing if they were not able to come out and prove it on the court.
“We just played,” she said. “I said it all year long that we were the better team. But you can say stuff like that and it doesn’t mean anything unless you can prove it. We played our game.
“I think Moorhead was a little shocked because we hadn’t played well against them the previous two times. They weren’t expecting our block. They weren’t expecting our defense because we hadn’t done those things when we played them before. We just played our game and we took care of business.”
The confidence that Schlichting had in her players was evident this time around. The Cardinals came out strong, winning 25-16 before persevering in two tight games to secure the match.
“We were thinking third time’s a charm,” senior setter Katie Brown said. “We knew we could take them. We knew it would be a good match, but we learned from our mistakes from the previous times we played them. We just needed to bring the energy.”
The end result was an emotional win for a team that knows what it is like to be on the other side. Alexandria came up short the last two years in the section finals. The Cardinals lost a heartbreaker last season in five games against St. Michael-Albertville. It was the memory of those losses that served as motivation for a lot players.
“I think it helped playing at that level,” Christianson said. “Being there two years in a row, we got to see the high level of competition and the stakes that were on the line. That really motivated me, and I’m sure it motivated Katie because we’ve both been on this team, this is our fourth year now. We’ve been to two section finals and lost both, so it was a big motivation. We wanted to win so bad, especially in our senior year.”
Now the Cardinals will be looking to add their third state tournament title in program history. It starts tomorrow, Thursday, at 3 p.m. at the Xcel Energy Center. They open up against seventh-ranked Wayzata in their opening match. The Trojans are 22-8 this season and coming off a win over Hopkins in the Section 6AAA title match.
“They are well rounded,” Schlichting said. “They have a good defense. They serve tough. I think we are going to be similar teams. I think they are going to be stronger in some areas and we will be stronger in others and hopefully that will compensate for it.”
One thing is certain – Alexandria is not going to back down from an opponent at state. The Cardinals have prepared themselves by competing in tournaments that feature strong teams from the metro area. They are confident that they can compete with the rest of the eight-team field starting tomorrow.
“We definitely think we can do well at state,” Brown said. “We know a little bit about [Wayzata]. If we just bring it, I think it will be a good match.”
Schlichting did not hesitate when asked what she feels her team is capable of this week.
“I expect us to get in that top four,” she said. “I think that’s very reasonable for us. I think we can beat Wayzata, but besides placing, I expect them to just do the best that they can. Play hard and take care of that mental aspect of the game…but I do think we can take Wayzata. I do think we can get into that top four and who knows? The sky’s the limit if they play well and have their heads on.”
It is a team that Schlichting said she knew was physically capable of making it to state coming into the season. How tough they would be mentally and how they would stick together as a team would be the determining factor on whether or not they achieved that goal in the end. They showed off that toughness by sweeping a team they have fallen to twice during the regular season. Now they hope to continue that as they shoot for their first title since 1999.
“Right now, I’m just thinking, ‘we are going to state,’” Brown said. “I don’t think it will hit me until we step on the court. Then I will be ready to go. I love competition, and I’m ready to bring it.”
“I’ll be all smiles,” Christianson added. “But we have to get down to business when we are down there. We don’t want to go in there and lose right away, so we have to get our heads into it and work our hardest and hopefully we come out with a win.”