An Alexandria volleyball team that will have a lot of players growing on the varsity level this fall got its first win of the season on Thursday night and did it with relative ease.
The Cardinals (1-1, 1-0 Central Lakes Conference) never really wavered though a match against St. Cloud Apollo after grabbing hold of the first set midway through. They coasted to a sweep from there, winning by scores of 25-17, 25-11 and 25-12.
“We tried to bring a little bit more excitement,” Alexandria head coach Mary Byrne said. “It’s a little easier to do that at home. We wanted to serve strong. That was evident in how many aces we had. It was just keeping the tempo on our side of the net and not slowing the ball down.”
Mia McGrane set the tone in the first set with a team-high five kills before she was on the serving line for the final points of a 25-17 win.
For McGrane, it is just great to be back on the court again. The senior outside hitter suffered a head injury outside of competition at the end of the last school year on May 21.
McGrane fainted from an iron deficiency while she was in the school parking lot and hit her head on the concrete. She suffered a skull fracture and a brain bleed and was taken to the Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis.
McGrane had to take it easy all summer. That meant no summer basketball or volleyball. She was relegated to watching from the sidelines as she stayed in the gym to be with her teammates. On Aug. 12, the first day of practice for volleyball, she was cleared to play.
“It’s so fun,” McGrane said with a smile. “This whole summer it’s just been, ‘Oh, shoot, I have to go back to the gym and watch.’ Now it’s, ‘Yes, finally I get to be with my girls and play the game I love.’ I feel like I’m back to normal. I don’t have any side effects. I’m just out there playing the best that I can.”
McGrane is one of this team’s primary attackers at the net and rarely comes out of a match with her ability to serve and play the back row. She didn’t leave the court on Thursday until the third set was already in hand.
“We’re very fortunate to have her back,” Byrne said. “She’s an all-around player with a really good skill set. She can do it all. Sometimes she wants to help everybody out and it takes away from her game, so we’re really getting her to focus on how she can contribute to our team and make sure she takes care of that first. She’s a great leader on the floor.”
McGrane is one of four seniors for the Cardinals with fellow outside hitter Ella Grove, defensive specialist Meg Shercliffe and setter Erika Roderick. McGrane said they are trying to provide as much leadership as possible for what is a fairly inexperienced nucleus around them.
Some of the youth showed in a four-set loss at Bemidji in the season opener where an early one-set lead disappeared, but Alexandria found ways to break free in every set against Apollo.
The two teams were tied 9-9 in the second before the Cardinals rattled off the next five points to force an Eagles timeout. It couldn’t halt Alexandria’s momentum as the Cardinals finished that set on a 16-2 run.
“I think that’s where we’re looking for our seniors to provide that leadership,” Byrne said. “At a point, they have to take control. That provided good leadership for those younger players. It makes a big difference to have that experience on the floor.”
The Cardinals never let the Eagles hang around in the third. They jumped out early and rolled to a 25-12 win to complete the sweep.
“I think this group has a lot of potential,” Byrne said. “They work together really well. They work hard, and they’re passionate about the game. It’s just getting them to play with that same passion each and every night.”
It’s only two matches into the season, but the Cardinals showed some of that potential in rolling past the Eagles. They hope to continue building on that as the season moves on.
“Practices this past week after Bemidji have been tough. We’ve been working hard, and this group of girls has a great work ethic,” McGrane said. “We want to play for each other and be there for each other. We want to push each other to get to a really high level. I think we can be one of the top section and conference teams. That’s our goal.”
ALEXANDRIA 3, ST. CLOUD APOLLO 0
(25-17, 25-11, 25-12)
ALEXANDRIA LEADERS - Ella Grove - 6 kills; Mia McGrane - 5 kills, 2 blocks; Erika Roderick - 16 assists, 2 blocks; Tessa McGrane - 6 aces; Lexi Cole - 2 blocks