The Alexandria volleyball team had dropped a couple straight matches, and the Cardinals didn’t want to let that linger with only a couple weeks left in the regular season.

Alexandria hosted Fergus Falls on Tuesday and left no doubt in moving to 5-2 in the Central Lakes Conference and to 8-9 now overall. The Cardinals swept the Otters (4-10, 3-5), winning 25-17, 25-10 and 25-20.

“We really set some good goals tonight before the game, and we met those goals throughout the match,” sophomore outside hitter Maggie Anderson said. “I think our defense really helped us a lot, and just serve and pass. That’s the game.”

The first two sets were never much in doubt, but the Otters had a chance to steal the third. Fergus Falls got to within 16-15 on back-to-back calls that the Cardinals’ coaches questioned. Instead of dwelling on it, Alexandria got the very next point and never let the lead slip away.

“It is mentally tough when you know you make a great play and it gets called back, but I thought they were very composed,” head coach Mary Byrne said. “I think that’s a big step in the right direction to have that composure on the floor and come back and get the next play. They did a good job of coming right back and not letting that get to them.”

Alexandria sophomore outside hitter Maggie Anderson puts down a kill against Fergus Falls on Tuesday night. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)
Alexandria sophomore outside hitter Maggie Anderson puts down a kill against Fergus Falls on Tuesday night. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)

Byrne was happy with the way her girls started the match after they had a slow start and fell behind 0-2 against Brainerd on Sept. 19. The Cardinals jumped out to an 11-4 lead in the first set and a 19-5 advantage in the second to erase any chances of the Otters getting a win.

“The first two sets, I thought we took control of the match,” Byrne said. “They’re a tough team to play. They’re very scrappy, and they keep the ball in play. Sometimes that can be mentally tough on a team to hold their focus. We kind of let go a little bit in the third set, but they pulled together and came out with a win.”

Senior setter Erika Roderick spread the ball around at the net with 24 assists. Seniors Mia McGrane and Ella Grove each had seven kills, and Anderson had five. Another sophomore hitter, Lilly Thul, put the match away in third with the set’s final kill.

Alexandria sophomore Madi Heid tips the ball over the defense of Fergus Falls' Jade Zierden (9) and Katie Strommen on Tuesday night. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)
Alexandria sophomore Madi Heid tips the ball over the defense of Fergus Falls' Jade Zierden (9) and Katie Strommen on Tuesday night. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)

Now a month into the season, many of those younger players in their first season on varsity for Alexandria are starting to gain more confidence.

“We’re a lot more comfortable,” Anderson said. “It doesn’t even feel like the audience is out there anymore.”

Anderson smiled when asked what that comfort level was like at the start of the season.

“It was really scary at first,” she said.

Byrne has seen some of her first-year players settle in around their seniors, as well.

“Being sophomores, that’s kind of a tough thing, but they’re making the plays when they need to,” she said. “That’s just refreshing that they are keeping their focus. They’re working hard in practice, and that’s why they’re able to execute when they need to. We have a ways to go yet, but we’re seeing some good things from pretty much all of the players.”

Tuesday’s match was the start of an important stretch for the Cardinals as they try to gain some momentum toward the postseason. Alexandria’s next three matches against Rocori, St. Cloud Apollo and St. Cloud Tech are all against teams with losing records.

“These games won’t be as hard as Willmar, Brainerd and Moorhead, but we still need to stay focused and not play down to anyone,” Anderson said.

Alexandria is currently seeded seventh through the QRF on Minnesota-scores.net in Section 8AAA, so the Cardinals need a solid finish to the regular season to climb those rankings.

Alexandria head coach Mary Byrne talks with sophomore Madi Heid on the bench late in the third set of the Cardinals' sweep over Fergus Falls on Tuesday night. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)
Alexandria head coach Mary Byrne talks with sophomore Madi Heid on the bench late in the third set of the Cardinals' sweep over Fergus Falls on Tuesday night. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)

They host a home tournament on Oct. 5 and then play Sartell-St. Stephen to wrap up the regular season on Oct. 8. That’s a match they have circled on the calendar with the Sabres being 14-0 and the top team in the section and conference fields, but Alexandria knows it can’t overlook these next few matches as it tries to climb above .500.

“We just talked about that after the match,” Byrne said. “We need to keep our focus and we need to create our own energy. We need to get better as a team, even every day in practice. We can’t do that unless everyone is focused and giving 100 percent and making themselves better, which will make the team better.”

ALEXANDRIA 3, FERGUS FALLS 0

(25-17, 25-10, 25-20)

ALEXANDRIA - Tessa McGrane - 2 aces, 18 digs; Meg Shercliffe - 2 aces, 1 assist, 6 digs; Madison Heid - 1 ace, 1 kill, 2 block, 2 digs; Lilly Thul - 1 ace, 2 kills, 1 dig; Lexi Cole - 3 kills, 1 dig; Maggie Anderson - 5 kills, 2 blocks, 3 digs; Erika Roderick - 1 ace, 3 kills, 3 blocks, 24 assists, 9 digs; Ella Grove - 7 kills; Mia McGrane - 4 aces, 7 kills, 1 assist, 13 digs; Micaela Nelson - 1 kill, 4 digs