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Volleyball: High note: Composure key in Alexandria’s 3-1 win over Bemidji

Alexandria head coach Mary Byrne (right) smiles as she walks to the handshake line following a 3-1 win over Bemidji at AAHS on Thursday. The season-opening victory was Byrne's first as the new Cardinal head coach. (Micah Friez / Echo Press)1 / 4
Alexandria junior Mia McGrane sets up a teammate during a 3-1 win over Bemidji at AAHS on Thursday. (Micah Friez / Echo Press)2 / 4
Alexandria senior McKenzie Duwenhoegger (11) readies for the ball as senior Devany Johnson (9) watches on during a 3-1 win over Bemidji at AAHS on Thursday. (Micah Friez / Echo Press)3 / 4
Alexandria senior Devany Johnson eyes the ball as it comes down during a 3-1 win over Bemidji at AAHS on Thursday. (Micah Friez / Echo Press)4 / 4

After limping into the third set with a 2-0 lead and falling flat into the fourth, the Alexandria volleyball team found its solution.

“We just started to play with a little bit more composure and not panic in situations, and we started to trust each other,” new head coach Mary Byrne said. “I thought that was a big win for us, not only with the score, but just how we can persevere. We just have to keep trusting our teammates and moving in that direction.”

Behind a thrilling win in the fourth set, the Cardinals took down Bemidji on Thursday with a 3-1 (25-18, 25-23, 22-25, 29-27) win in the season opener at AAHS, opening the Byrne era on a high note.

“It’s always good to win your first one, and to win at home,” said Byrne. “To persevere and pull together, I thought that showed a lot of character from our team.”

Alex (1-0) grabbed control in the first set, steadily building a lead without the need of any large runs. They took their first lead at 6-5 when an Ella Grove kill found a vacant corner, and it grew to 13-9 on a Devany Johnson ace.

Soon after, Kendra Hardy came flying in for a kill that cut across the court for a 21-14 score, and Alexandria was well on its way to a 25-18 win in the first set.

The smooth sailing continued early on in the second, as three straight errors by the Lumberjacks (0-1) saw AAHS out to a 20-10 lead. But Bemidji fired back, running off seven consecutive points before climbing within one at 22-21. However, Mya Lesnar stopped the bleeding with a powerful kill that regained a two-point edge.

Although Alexandria escaped 25-23, in part to a late kill from Mia McGrane, the Jacks carried momentum into the third set.

The Cardinals led most of the way, which included a six-point edge as late as 16-10. But Taylor Wade willed BHS back within striking distance, and they tallied five points in a row as a Rumer Flatness kill made for a 19-all tie.

“We let our guard down. We should’ve taken care of the ball a little bit better in set three,” said Byrne. “Bemidji played great defense. I give them a lot of credit. They really pursued the ball, and hopefully we can learn a little bit from that.”

Bemidji ultimately won the third set 25-22 when Kenzie Christiansen came up with the clinching block, and thoughts of a fifth set hovered over a fourth in which Bemidji roared out to a 10-4 advantage.

“We weren’t managing the ball as well as we needed to,” McGrane said. “We just knew we had to take the momentum back and start playing with composure. Start playing more together and start talking more on the floor.”

That was when the Cards dug in. McGrane tied it at 16-16 with a kill, and McKenzie Duwenhoegger followed with one of her own for a 17-all deadlock. After Bemidji regained a two-point edge, Lesnar rocketed down a flying kill and followed it with a block at the net for a 20-20 tie.

AAHS claimed its first lead at 22-21, but the seesaw set put them down 24-22. Alexandria rallied for ties at 24-24, 25-25 and 27-27. Then, with a 28-27 lead following a McGrane block, Hardy clinched a 29-27 victory with a roll shot to the middle.

“It feels good,” McGrane said of the win. “It shows us that we have a lot more to look forward to, and we have a lot to work on. But it’s nice to realize that we can pull out a win on nights like these.”

Alexandria will return to action at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 30, to host Sauk Rapids-Rice at AAHS.

Micah Friez

Micah Friez covers Bemidji State basketball and BSU for the Bemidji Pioneer. A native of East Grand Forks, Minn., he is a 2018 graduate of Bemidji State with a degree in Creative and Professional Writing. Follow him on Twitter at @micahfriez for Beaver basketball updates.

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