Alex volleyball: Tigers too much in season openerThe Cardinals had to overcome an injury that made an already tough challenge even more difficult against Class AA's top-ranked team.
By: Eric Morken, Alexandria Echo Press
The Cardinal volleyball team never wastes any time testing itself against one of the state’s best programs.
Alexandria and Marshall have opened the season against each other for the last seven years. This time, the Tigers came in as the defending Class AA state champions and ranked No. 1 in the opening polls.
Alexandria hung right with them through the majority of two sets before Marshall used late runs to win 25-18 and 25-16. The Tigers rolled from there, jumping out to a 5-0 lead in the third before putting the match away with a 25-11 win.
“Obviously, we didn’t win,” Cardinals’ head coach Becky Schlichting said. “But our first two sets were fantastic. The girls played well. I felt great after both of them. Right up until our injury, we were point for point with them in that game [two].”
That injury came when senior outside hitter Jenni Wild went up for a kill and rolled her ankle when she hit the ground. Wild was helped off the court without putting any pressure on it, but Schlichting said after the match it didn’t seem like something that will keep her out for an extended period of time.
Alexandria was trailing just 15-14 when Wild went down. Things got away from the Cardinals soon after, though, as the Tigers outscored them 10-2 the rest of the way to take control of the match.
“It’s a big momentum swing,” Schlichting said. “Jenni’s an all-around player for us. She’s all over the court. She does a lot of things for our team. We have a lot of strength around her, but she’s a key player and has been for them all JO season. They’re used to having her on the court, so I think it was kind of a momentum thing.”
Marshall was just too much to handle at the net once the Tigers got their offense going. Junior outside hitter Kenzie Beekman was the catalyst as she finished with 23 kills on the night. Junior setter Sydney Griffin added six kills and a team-high 19 assists.
The Cardinals were kept on their toes and didn’t have a lot of great kill opportunities throughout the night. Junior Amanda Christianson led Alexandria with seven kills, while Adrianne Wensman, Emily Kuennen and Natalie Watkins each had two apiece.
“We’re a smaller team, so we need to be crafty,” Schlichting said. “They did a great job of working their shots, and we scored some times on just the smart plays, but they need to get used to doing that more often because we aren’t a team of 5’10,” 6’0” girls. We’re probably an average height of 5’7” so we just need to be smart and the more we practice that, the better we’ll get at it.”
The Cardinals have seen almost every situation on the court with a roster that’s loaded with upperclassmen. Nine seniors and two juniors in Christianson and Kuennen make this a team that has no shortage of varsity experience entering the season. It’s a group of seniors that is hungry to go out on a positive note after struggling through an eight-win season a year ago.
“They want to go to state, and I don’t think that’s out of the picture if we continue to improve,” Schlichting said. “They definitely have a kind of bad taste after our season last year. They want to make sure they do everything possible to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”
Bouncing back from a down year will start with Alexandria trying to get back near the top of the Central Lakes Conference. The Cardinals went 46-2 inside the CLC from 2007-2010 and finished with at least a share of the league title all four years. They want to make sure last year’s 5-7 record and sixth-place finish were nothing but an aberration in Alexandria’s strong history in the CLC.
“There’s no specific reason for it,” Schlichting said. “They just need to know coming into the season that last year was last year…It was just a down year for us. They know what that’s like, and they want to work, they want to sweat. They want to work hard and they’re willing to do whatever it takes to ensure that we are back on top where we want to be.”
Marshall 3, Alexandria 0
(25-18, 25-16, 25-11)
ALEXANDRIA STATISTICS – Wensman – 2 kills, 2 blocks; Allie Noetzelman – 1 kill, 11 assists; Christianson – 7 kills, 2 blocks; Danielle Strater – 1 ace; Kuennen – 2 kills; Liz Schultz – 1 block; Wild – 1 kill, 1 ace; Jessica Burns – 1 kill; Watkins – 2 kills, 1 ace, 16 digs; Nicole Canavati – 4 assists; Shanee’ Herd – 1 kill, 15 digs; Tara LaBrassuer – 1 kill