Alexandria volleyball: Otters' depth downs AlexandriaShanee Herd collected her 1,000th dig in four-set loss to Fergus Falls
By: Eric Morken, Alexandria Echo Press
The stage was set for an exciting night of volleyball before Fergus Falls and Alexandria ever took the court last Thursday.
An impending milestone, the top two teams in the Central Lakes Conference and a night that was dedicated to help raise money for breast cancer research set the tone. Once the ball went up, both teams fed off that energy in a match that could be a Section 8AAA preview.
The Otters came into the night 18-3 overall and a perfect 9-0 in CLC play. Alexandria was coming off perhaps its most disappointing loss of the season. It was a match that head coach Becky Schlichting admitted even she thought was over as her team built a 2-0 lead against Rocori only to watch the Spartans storm back for a five-set win.
The Cardinals seemed to put that behind them by Thursday night. Alexandria matched the energy of Fergus Falls step-for-step, but in the end, it was the depth of the Otters that won out in four sets. Alexandria had chances in almost all of those but ultimately fell 26-24, 24-26, 25-9, 25-23.
“They were very excited to be here tonight and we need them to be that excited every single game,” Schlichting said of her team. “I think they learned that. I think we learned Tuesday night that we need to be excited, and we learned tonight that we can be an awesome team when we are.”
The night started with anticipation as senior libero Shanee’ Herd came in just a couple digs short of 1,000 for her career. The only one who didn’t know about the milestone was her. It came early in the first set as her teammates erupted off the bench to congratulate her after the point was over.
“It was unreal,” Herd said of the reaction. “I had no idea why they were celebrating. I was so confused and then when Jessica [Burns] came and hugged me with the flowers, I got teary eyed. I was so shocked.”
It was just the beginning of another big night for Herd from the back row as she finished with a team-high 20 digs.
“I’ve never had a player do that before,” Schlichting said. “And she’s a kid who deserves it. Every single dig she’s had she works her tail off for. She’s a phenomenal player. She’s been a leader for this team for the last three years and she deserves to be out there every single minute that she is out there.”
As the libero, it is often Herd’s responsibility to get the offense going by putting the ball in a good position for her setters. The Cardinals’ offense flowed at times on Thursday, especially early on in sets.
Alexandria led for much of the first set behind a strong start from Amanda Christianson. The junior outside hitter helped her team play to a 24-24 tie with seven of her team-high 15 kills in the opening game. The Cardinals used a fast start in the second to build a 24-16 lead before surviving a scare to even things up at one set apiece.
From there, the Otters’ Brianna Rasmusson started to take over. The junior do-everything player was all over the court. Her final stat line told the story of her value, 15 kills, 17 digs, 14 assists, three blocks and 19-of-20 serving with three aces.
“She’s very tough,” Herd said. “She’s going to be one of our toughest hitters [we’ll face] all year. To go to state, we’re going to have to shut her down.”
The problem for the opposition is that the Otters have the depth to torment teams for paying too much attention to Rasmusson. Morgan Hensch and Anna Monke each finished with 10 kills, while Laura Gaustad added eight to make for a potent Otters’ attack.
The Cardinals will likely need to find some of that depth themselves if they are going to overcome a team like the Otters in the playoffs. Christianson hit the ball with authority on Thursday, but no other Alexandria player finished with double-digit kills. Emily Kuennen was second on the team with six and Natalie Watkins and Adrianne Wensman each had five.
“To win against the teams that we need to win against when it comes to section playoffs, we need to really get our offense going,” Schlichting said. “Looking at the stats, we’ve got one kid that pounds the ball down really consistently. They’ve got three up there on the scoreboard. We just need to find that player, whether or not it’s a hard hit, we just need to find more girls who can find the floor a little more often.”
The Cardinals feel they are not that far away if they can do that. They got swept in Fergus Falls earlier this season but were right there in every set. They lost that first match-up by a combined nine points. That’s why they still have confidence that anything can happen if they get a third shot at the Otters in the playoffs.
“We’re going to really focus on our hitting so we can hit right back at them,” Herd said. “We did good on our defense tonight, we just got to hit at them and we’ll be good. We are right there. We’re so close.”
Fergus Falls 3, Alexandria 1
(26-24, 24-26, 25-9, 25-23)
ALEXANDRIA – Nicole Canavati – 12 assists, 1 ace, 7 digs; Watkins – 5 kills, 3 aces, 11 digs; Tara LeBrasseur – 4 kills, 1 dig, 3 blocks; Christianson – 15 kills, 3 digs, 2 blocks; Jenni Wild – 3 kills, 15 digs; Wensman – 5 kills, 1 ace, 1 block; Allie Noetzelman – 3 kills, 23 assists, 2 aces, 7 digs; Dani Strater – 1 dig; Emily Kuennen – 6 kills, 1 dig, 2 blocks; Liz Schultz – 1 kill; Herd – 20 digs