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Volleyball: Alexandria gets on track with back-to-back sweeps early this week

The Cardinals had lost three straight matches to good opponents coming into a Monday match with Becker, but Alexandria bounced back with quick wins over both the Bulldogs and now Brainerd on Tuesday to improve to 5-3 overall.

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The Alexandria volleyball team celebrates a point during the Cardinals' win over Brainerd on Sept. 20, 2022. Alexandria improved to 5-3 overall with back-to-back sweeps over Becker and Brainerd on Monday and Tuesday of this week.
Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press
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ALEXANDRIA — The Alexandria volleyball team wanted to get back on track after three straight losses to good teams, and the start of this week has been a step in that direction.

The Cardinals (5-3) were coming off a sweep of Section 8-3A foe Becker from Monday as Central Lakes Conference rival Brainerd came to town on Tuesday. The Warriors, a Class 4A program, were fresh off a 3-0 win over Fergus Falls on Sept. 15, but Alexandria made quick work of the Warriors in a 3-0 sweep.

“We put a big emphasis on (getting back on track),” junior outside hitter Maddi Buysse said. “We just said, ‘We need to have fun.’ That’s when we do our best is when we have fun. We played together, and we had fun. We didn’t worry about our mistakes or anything.”

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Alexandria controlled the first two sets, winning 25-14 and 25-17. Sophomore Hadley Thul and senior Charlotte Lempka jumpstarted the Cardinals with five kills each in the first set.

Brainerd jumped out to an early 3-1 advantage in the third set, but the Cardinals quickly took control on the way to a 25-14 win.

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“We’ve been focusing on being confident, swinging,” senior middle blocker Emma Ballou said. “Against good teams, we have to focus on competing. That’s what we’ve been talking about is not just playing, but competing. That comes with stronger arm swings, going more aggressive.”

Alexandria was the aggressor almost all night. The Cardinals consistently got the ball up to senior setter Kiya Issendorf on her birthday as Issendorf spread the ball around to her hitters for aggressive swings at the net. She finished with 23 assists while sophomore Addie Rossum also got some time at setter near the end of the match.

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Alexandria senior setter Kiya Issendorf puts the ball up for one of her teammates as sophomore Addie Rossum gets into position during the Cardinals' win over Brainerd on Sept. 20, 2022. Unofficial stats had Issendorf with 23 assists and 6 serving aces, while Rossum finished with 12 kills, 2 aces and 6 assists to help the Cardinals to the sweep.
Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press

“Kiya ran the offense really well tonight,” Alexandria head coach Mary Byrne said. “It’s nice to give her a break a little bit and have Addie set. That’s a good combination for us as well, but Kiya had a great night.”

Lempka had a handful of emphatic kills from her middle blocker position, including two early in the third set that shifted the momentum to the Cardinals. Thul, Rossum, and Buysse also gave Alexandria a balanced attack.

“It’s a lot easier on the pins when the middles are going,” Buysse said. “We just all come together, and we realize how much more fun it is.”

Unofficial stats had sophomore Hadley Thul finishing with a team-high 15 kills, while Lempka and Rossum each had 8, and Buysse finished with 7.

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Alexandria senior middle blocker Charlotte Lempka, left, lets out a scream as she celebrates an emphatic kill with her teammates on Sept. 20, 2022.
Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press

“I thought we definitely had control of the match,” Byrne said. “Our passing was good enough where we could really run three hitters, so it was really tough for Brainerd to know who we were going to. Offensively, we were balanced and that was because the passing was a little bit better. It is a good feeling to have that, but we need to sharpen it even more in practice.”

Byrne said last Thursday when top-ranked Marshall swept the Cardinals that the Tigers did it behind their serving and passing. Those are two areas that Alexandria went to work on during practice ahead of Monday’s tilt with Becker.

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Alexandria senior Emma Ballou serves during the Cardinals' win over Brainerd on Sept. 20, 2022.
Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press

Alexandria improved in both its passing and serving game at the start of this week. Issendorf led the way from the serving line with six aces on Tuesday, while Julia Doherty and Rossum each added two, and Ballou finished with one.

“We put a lot of time in practice into serving,” Ballou said. “It helps build momentum, which is like the most important part of volleyball. It really helped us get those runs.”

Byrne was impressed with the way Brainerd served as well, but she liked the way her team was better on serve receive throughout the night.

Match by match, Byrne is starting to see this group make progress.

Read more Alexandria Cardinals coverage from the Echo Press

“I think we’re just getting more experience,” she said. “Our younger players are really starting to settle in, and we’re getting some good chemistry on the floor and taking care of the little things a little better than we had in the past.”

Tuesday’s win improved the Cardinals to 3-2 in the CLC. Alexandria has not lost a Section 8-3A match, with the Cardinals sitting at 3-0 after beating St. Cloud Apollo, St. Cloud Tech and Becker.

“I think we need a little more mental toughness on some of the easy plays. We let (Brainerd) score a lot of unearned points, and we really want to focus on making an opponent earn their points,” Byrne said of where she wants to see improvement as Alexandria nears the midway point of the season. “We’re still letting balls drop a little bit between players, or not sure who’s going to be going after the ball. We got to clean that up and hopefully play a little faster as well.”

The Cardinals host Fergus Falls (3-7) on Thursday at 7 p.m. before a big match in the 8-3A field against Rocori (5-3) in Cold Spring on Sept. 27.

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Alexandria then plays two more section opponents in St. Cloud Apollo and St. Cloud Tech before facing CLC-leader Sartell-St. Stephen (9-2) at home on Oct. 6. Both the Sabres and Willmar had 5-0 CLC records entering Tuesday.

After a couple of wins this week, the Cardinals are excited how this team is coming together with a big stretch coming up.

“All the hard work we’ve put in since the beginning of the season, we’re starting to see the results,” Ballou said. “That’s really rewarding, and that’s going to keep pushing us to get better as a team.”

ALEXANDRIA 3, BRAINERD 0

(25-14, 25-17, 25-14)

ALEXANDRIA UNOFFICIAL STATS - Addie Rossum - 12 kills, 2 aces, 6 assists; Hadley Thul - 15 kills, 1 assist; Charlotte Lempka - 8 kills, 2 blocks; Maddi Buysse - 7 kills, 1 block; Emma Ballou - 1 ace, 2 assists; Julia Doherty - 2 aces; Kiya Issendorf - 6 aces, 23 assists; Chloe Scholl - 1 assist

Eric Morken is a sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press Newspaper in Alexandria, Minnesota, a property of the Forum News Service. Morken covers a variety of stories throughout the Douglas County area, as well as statewide outdoor issues.
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