The Alexandria volleyball team hadn’t played a match since Oct. 8 before opening up the Section 8AAA Tournament on Friday night, and it took a while for the Cardinals to get going.
Once they did, the Magic had no answer for them down the stretch of a couple close sets.
Monticello controlled the first set from start to finish. The Magic (19-10) got four kills from 6-foot, 2-inch sophomore Megan Wetter to help secure a 25-17 win, but the tide turned in the second set when Alexandria (15-11) jumped out to a 7-1 lead and won 25-10.
The Cardinals road that momentum all the way through with three straight wins that secured the match 3-1 and sent them to the semifinal round at top-seeded Sartell on Tuesday night.
“I think we were a little slow coming out,” Alexandria head coach Mary Byrne said. “I thought we’d be a little more ready, but we have had two weeks off from playing. They came back and just trusted their serve and pass and defense. That got us the win.”
The match was as high intensity as it gets over the last two sets. Monticello rallied to tie the third at 18-18, but the Cardinals scored the next four points on three Magic errors and a block.
Monticello chipped away from there. The Magic tied it at 26-26 before Alexandria junior Lexi Cole put away a tip for a 27-26 lead. Cole then teamed up with senior setter Erika Roderick for a block that gave the Cardinals an emotional boost with a 28-26 win.
“They just really wanted it, and it showed,” Byrne said. “They were fighting. They’ve battled and battled, and they’re learning they need to just keep battling, and confidence is coming with that. They’ve won enough times like that, that it’s starting to sink in that volleyball is a game of runs and momentum. They just need to be patient with it.”
Alexandria demonstrated some patience in the decisive fourth set. Monticello grabbed a 19-12 lead, but the Cardinals slowly chipped away.
Madi Heid got a kill that made it a 20-17 score and forced a Magic timeout. Ella Grove and Roderick then tied it at 21 apiece with a couple of Grove kills and a Roderick well-placed tip.
After an Alexandria passing error gave the Magic a 23-22 lead, Maggie Anderson tied it back up with a kill. That’s when senior Mia McGrane put the match away with back-to-back kills to extend the Cardinals’ season.
“In the locker room, we talked about playing with our hearts,” McGrane said. “This could be our last game ever, so we just went out there and said, ‘We’ve got this.’ In our huddles, it was, ‘Let’s go. This is our court. We’re getting this.’ We were going to push through.”
Alexandria’s seniors stepped up when the Cardinals needed them. Grove had three kills down the stretch in the fourth set, all of which came when her team was trailing. McGrane had a team-high 15 kills total, but Anderson, a sophomore, had stretches where she too controlled things from the outside on her way to 10 kills.
“That’s the leadership that they provide for us, both on the court and off the court,” Byrne said of her seniors. “We were scoring effectively out at that pin (with Mia and Ella), so we just wanted to keep going with it, but Maggie was doing a nice job on the other pin, and our middles got a couple hits. That opened up the outside a little bit for Ella and Mia.”
It was an emotional win for Alexandria after finding ways to take such close sets in the third and fourth. Now the Cardinals have to try to carry some of that over into a road match against Sartell-St. Stephen.
“I think we’re all fired up,” McGrane said of getting another shot at the Sabres. “We want it so bad. After playing tonight, we saw what we can do. We pushed to get 28-26 and 25-23 wins. We just worked hard, and we’re pumped (for Sartell).”
Sartell-St. Stephen is 25-1 and swept the regular-season contests with Alexandria in 3-1 and 3-0 matches. Sartell junior outside hitter Elizabeth Dille had 18 kills in that sweep in Alexandria on Oct. 8. She’s someone the Cardinals have to try to slow down if they want a chance to pull off the upset and secure a spot in the section finals on Nov. 2.
“They have a very good hitter, but we showed tonight that we can dig against a very strong attack,” Byrne said. “(Megan Wetter) from Monticello is a strong player. We just got to dig deep. We have a great game plan for Sartell, but we just didn’t execute it the last time. I preach over and over, we don’t need super great plays, and we can’t have awful plays. We just want to stay with everyone playing well, and we’ll be fine.”
ALEXANDRIA 3, MONTICELLO 1
(17-25, 25-10, 28-26, 25-23)