The Alexandria volleyball team lost to Sartell in five sets when the two teams played on September 16 but left no doubt about what team was playing the better volleyball at tournament time in the rematch.
Seeding didn’t matter on Tuesday night as the Cardinals (17-12) swept the top-seeded Sabres (23-5) in three sets by scores of 25-22, 25-18 and 25-19. The win punched Alexandria’s ticket to the Section 8AAA title game on Saturday in Brainerd at 2 p.m. against Bemidji after the third-seeded Lumberjacks (18-11) beat second-seeded Moorhead in five sets on Tuesday.
“Probably their desire to win,” Alexandria head coach Becky Schlichting said when asked the biggest reason for Tuesday’s sweep. “My seniors got a solid taste of what it is like to end your season earlier than anticipated last year and they are set on not feeling that emotion again. The girls went in and executed our game plan well but always kept our number one in mind – play our game.”
That has been the mindset of the Cardinals all season long – to focus on themselves and control what they can control. They’ve shown over the first two matches of the section tournament that when they do that, they’re pretty dangerous.
“Confidence is going to be high,” Schlichting said of playing Bemidji. “So now it is our job to make sure we don’t confuse confidence with arrogance, which shouldn’t be a problem. The girls know that anything can happen on any given night and that although we are confident, the match will not just be handed to us.”
The Cardinals were able to spread the ball around the net in a win over Monticello last Friday night and it was a similar story on Tuesday. Four players had at least six kills with Kalley Bistodeau leading the way with 14. Jordyn Lamb and Liz Schultz each had nine, while Brooke Swanson added six.
Amanda Haack set them up all night with 39 assists. Gretchen Watkins had a team-high 17 digs and Bistodeau added three aces from the serving line.
Alexandria didn’t play Bemidji during the regular season, but Schlichting doesn’t see that as a problem. They will again go into Saturday’s match believing that they simply need to play their game to have success.
“If we do this, while focusing on minor game plan adjustments throughout, we will have a great shot of accomplishing the goal these girls have had for years – state,” Schlichting said. “Although we haven’t played Bemidji this season we have seen them play and feel we have a decent handle on their strengths and weaknesses going into the match.”
The Cardinals will go into the section title game having won seven of their last eight matches outside of weekend tournaments. Their only loss during that stretch is against Central Lakes Conference champion Rocori on October 9.
Bemidji will carry some similar momentum into the day with the way the Lumberjacks earned their way to the section championship. They were trailing 2-0 at Moorhead on Tuesday before winning 25-21, 25-23 and 15-10 to complete a dramatic comeback.
With that, the first and second seeds in the tournament were knocked out of the 8AAA field. A section that looked wide open coming into the postseason proved to be just that through the first two rounds. Now the Cardinals and Lumberjacks will play one more match to determine which team takes home a title.
“They need to play with energy, intensity, power and precision throughout,” Schlichting said. “They will need to be fearless in their attack of our opponent at all times. Play to win. It will be primarily about us playing our style of volleyball and upholding the standards we have been committed to all season.”
(25-22, 25-18, 25-19)
ALEXANDRIA – Haack – 1 kill, 39 assists, 7 digs; Bistodeau – 14 kills, 1 assist, 3 aces, 14 digs; Swanson – 6 kills, 1 dig; Morgan Melrose – 3 kills, 2 digs, 2 block assists; Lamb – 9 kills, 3 digs, 1 block assist; Schultz – 9 kills, 5 digs, 2 solo blocks, 3 block assists; Watkins – 17 digs; Alexis Stern – 1 assist, 1 ace, 3 digs; Katie Dolan – 1 ace, 15 digs