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Spuds stand in their way

Kalley Bistodeau perfectly places a ball into the far right corner for a point against Detroit Lakes on Tuesday night. Bistodeau finished with 11 kills to help the Cardinals secure their spot in the 8AAA title game. (Eric Morken/Echo Press

The Alexandria volleyball team is one win away from the state tournament with an opponent that the Cardinals already swept this season standing in their way.

But anyone who thinks tonight’s 8AAA title match in Fergus Falls against Moorhead will be easy for this Alexandria team might have to take a closer look. Sure, the Cardinals won in three against the Spuds on September 3, but all of those sets were decided by just two points. Moorhead players believe they are a much different team from early in the season, and they’ve proven that by going 13-4 since September 24.

“A lot of it is just depending on who shows up,” Alexandria head coach Becky Schlichting said after the Cardinals swept Detroit Lakes in the semifinals on Tuesday night. “Moorhead typically has tough serving, defense. They work hard, but sometimes they get down mentally, which is where we have capitalized in the past because we haven’t’ done that. I really feel it will be a pretty equal matchup and it will come down to whoever can be the most mentally tough.”

The Cardinals know they have to throw out anything that happened during the regular season in what will be a much different atmosphere on Friday night. Alexandria experienced the other side of that in the tournament opener when eighth-seeded St. Cloud Tech took the Cardinals to five sets.

Alexandria got some nerves out of the way in that match and used the experience to help put away Detroit Lakes during crucial moments on Tuesday. The Cardinals and Lakers were tied 20-20 in each of the first two sets. It was Alexandria that found a way to close, winning 25-21 and 25-22 before dominating the third set 25-12.

“We were more anxious to play because we knew we could play better than we did on Friday,” junior outside hitter Kalley Bistodeau said. “When we won the first two, we were a lot more relaxed than it was against Tech. That was just a good feeling.”

Bistodeau and senior Amanda Christianson led a balanced attack at the net with 11 kills apiece. Sophomore Wensia Johnson added eight kills and junior Liz Schultz and senior Emily Kuennen combined for three kills. Those five have kept teams guessing all season as to where Amanda Haack is going to go with the ball. The junior setter finished with 29 assists against the Lakers.

“Anywhere she sets it, someone can put it away,” Bistodeau said. “It helps a lot because then they don’t know where to go, and we get the advantage to find open spots.”

The Cardinals know that depth is a luxury and something they hope can carry them to another win tonight. Moorhead has already taken down the two-time defending section champion in Bemidji.

Outside hitter Olivia Ostlie led the Spuds over the Lumberjacks with 17 kills on Tuesday night. Alyssa LaFlamme added 13 kills and two blocks. Just like Moorhead got swept by Alexandria in the regular season, the Spuds also fell 3-0 to Bemidji on September 5 before downing the Lumberjacks in four sets in the tournament.

“When we first played them, we didn’t talk as much,” LaFlamme told Chris Murphy of the Fargo Forum on Tuesday night. “Everybody on the team was just energized. We’ve come a long way. Our team grew. We learned from our losses, and we knew what we needed to do to improve.”

The Cardinals are expecting a much different team as these two play in the biggest match of their seasons to this point. They welcome the challenge, knowing nothing should come easy with their first trip to the state tournament since 2009 on the line tonight.

“It’s exciting,” Schlichting said. “What’s even more exciting is I know we can get to that state tournament like we’ve been saying all year if we continue to play the Alexandria volleyball that we’ve been playing.”

8AAA SEMIFINALS Alexandria 3, Detroit Lakes 0

(25-21, 25-22, 25-12)

ALEXANDRIA – Haack – 4 kills, 29 assists, 1 ace, 3 digs, 3 assisted blocks; Bistodeau – 11 kills, 1 ace, 5 digs; Kuennen – 2 kills, 1 dig; Christianson – 11 kills, 2 assists, 1 ace, 14 digs, 1 block; Johnson – 8 kills, 2 digs; Schultz – 1 kill, 1 ace, 6 digs, 3 solo blocks; Gretchen Watkins – 1 ace, 10 digs; Katie Dolan – 2 aces, 12 digs

Eric Morken

Eric Morken is the sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press and Osakis Review newspapers in Douglas County, MN. Follow him on Twitter at echo_sports.

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