Volleyball: Cards move on to Bemidji after fending off 12th-seeded Tech
Wins and losses for the Alexandria volleyball team have depended a lot on the kind of energy the Cardinals have on a given night.
Alexandria had that energy in stretches during the Section 8, Class 3A tournament opener against 12th-seeded St. Cloud Tech on Wednesday. The Cardinals won the first set 27-25 but faltered in a 25-14 loss to the Tigers (5-20) in the second set. That woke them up a bit as Alexandria won 25-14 in the third with a Mya Lesnar kill finishing it off. They then put Tech away with a 25-21 win in the fourth to advance to Friday’s match against fourth-seeded Bemidji in the section quarterfinals.
“I think the way they played continued to show that the outcome of our matches is really going to depend on the effort that we put in,” Alexandria head coach Becky Schlichting said. “When things are clicking and that chemistry is there and that effort is all in, really good things happen for us. We’re at the point in the season where we can’t afford not to have that.”
The Tigers almost forced a fifth set after taking a late lead in the fourth. They were up 19-16, but Alexandria took control from there.
The Cardinals tied things at 19 apiece and got a big kill from junior Kendra Hardy to make it 23-21. Junior McKenzie Duwenhoegger followed with a kill of her own before an error on a kill attempt by the Tigers ended the match in Alexandria’s favor.
“I think in the last set we just realized that if we wanted to win we were going to have to leave it all on the court,” senior middle hitter Tori Jeseritz said. “Go hard and be fearless, have the competitive mindset to get the win.”
The Tigers were winless in the Central Lakes Conference this season, and Alexandria swept them on Sept. 26. Cardinals’ sophomore outside hitter Mia McGrane said they knew St. Cloud Tech would likely come out swinging hoping to pull off the upset.
Schlichting wanted to see more communication in the second set. She called a couple timeouts to try to boost that energy. It didn’t happen in that set, but Alexandria did what it had to do to finish things off down the stretch.
“I was very proud of the way they came out in the third and completely flipped that switch and took charge,” Schlichting said. “I gave them the green light to be more aggressive in some areas, which I want them to do naturally.”
That aggression has been a work in progress this season with so many young players on the court. Jeseritz is one of just three seniors on Alexandria’s roster, meaning a lot of juniors and sophomores are being leaned upon.
“Skill wise, I can trust any kid on the court in any given moment,” Schlichting said. “They’re out there because they belong there. It’s the mental side of the game where I think with some of the younger athletes we struggle with a little at times, but it’s improved so much. We have one senior out there consistently, so it’s falling on those juniors and sophomores to have that leadership.”
Developing that leadership is coming along. McGrane led Alexandria in kills against the Tigers with 13. Lesnar, another sophomore, added seven kills, while Duwenhoegger finished with nine. They are set up by another sophomore in Erika Roderick (36 assists), who is asked to take charge of the offense by the nature of that setter position.
“From the beginning of the year until now, we’ve definitely become one team,” McGrane said. “We’re going to keep building that strength that we have.”
The Cardinals are now 15-12 after Wednesday’s win and have shown flashes of how good they can be. Willmar is 23-4 and the top seed in this section field, but one of those losses came in five sets to Alexandria on Oct. 5.
McGrane said it was their energy and fearlessness that led them to the win that night in Willmar. That’s the kind of effort it will likely take to knock off Bemidji on the Lumberjacks’ home court this Friday night at 7. Bemidji is 14-13 and beat the Cardinals in four sets on Sept. 30.
“We need to bring that energy and that connection,” Schlichting said. “If both teams show up with that, it’s going to be a great match. If one team doesn’t bring it, it’s going to be a pretty easy match for the other team.”
Alexandria’s win over Willmar still resonates for these players as proof that they can beat good teams when they are on their game. Schlichting wants them to remember that as they try to extend their season in what she believes is a section that a host of teams can win.
“We’re not the only team this year that has struggled with the ups and downs of the mental game,” Schlichting said. “Every match from here on out is going to come down to the team that can show up and be the most consistent and have that mindset of being great and believing that on every point.”
ALEXANDRIA 3, ST. CLOUD TECH 1
(27-25, 14-25, 25-14, 25-21)
ALEXANDRIA - Erika Roderick - 36 assists, 1 ace, 5 digs, 1 block; McKenzie Duwenhoegger - 9 kills, 3 digs; Tori Jeseritz - 3 kills, 3 aces, 4 digs, 2 blocks; Kendra Hardy - 4 kills, 3 aces, 11 digs, 2 solo blocks, 2 assisted blocks; Mia McGrane - 13 kills, 13 digs, 2 blocks; Devany Johnson - 2 aces, 14 digs; Kenzie Carlson - 3 digs; Sierra Cory - 1 kill, 1 block