The Sartell-St. Stephen volleyball team showed why it is the top-seed team in Section 8AAA during Tuesday night’s semifinal match against fourth-seeded Alexandria.

The Sabres (26-1) beat the Cardinals (15-12) 3-0 on their home court. It was a win that punched their ticket to the section title game, while ending Alexandria’s season.

“We had a great year. Tonight was disappointing, but we had some really great rallies,” Alexandria head coach Mary Byrne said. “We have a lot of young players on the court, and they showed a lot of improvement throughout the year. We just need to keep working on building this program up and being competitive. This was a big step from a year ago, and we need to keep moving in that direction.”

The Cardinals showed their youth in the first set when they fell behind early. Their miscues gave the Sabre’s a five-point advantage when Byrne used her first timeout. Both teams traded points before Sartell went on a 5-0 run to win the set 25-14.

Madi Heid (left), Lilly Thul (middle) and Erika Roderick celebrate a point in the second set during Alexandria's 3-0 loss to Sartell in the Section 8AAA semifianl match. (Jared Rubado / Echo Press)
Madi Heid (left), Lilly Thul (middle) and Erika Roderick celebrate a point in the second set during Alexandria's 3-0 loss to Sartell in the Section 8AAA semifianl match. (Jared Rubado / Echo Press)

“I’m sure there were nerves there in the first set with those young players out there,” Byrne said. “We were without Meg (Shircliffe), one of our starting players so that always takes a toll on your team chemistry as well. We had some things we were battling with Meg being out. I give Sartell credit. They’re a nice team, and we just had some opportunities that we missed out on. It was hard to get them back, especially on the road.”

Alexandria got into a rhythm in the second set. After trailing by seven points, they started to close in on Sartell’s lead. Down 18-16, an awkward play at the net sparked a lengthy discussion between the officials.

The point was awarded to the Sabres and the momentum had shifted. The Cardinals struggled to get back on track as they lost six straight points to fall behind 2-0 in the match.

“There were so many times where it was just a one or two-point swing, and we mentally broke down at the wrong time,” Byrne said. “We need to become a little bit stronger mentally. That’ll come with the experience on the court.”

Alexandria took its first lead of the night when Mia McGrane found an open spot on the Sartell side of the court. The Cardinals went ahead 6-3 in the third set before a five-point run by the Sabres put them back in a hole. Sartell junior Elizabeth Dille had two aces during that stretch.

The Cardinals didn’t go down quietly. After the Sabres took an eight-point lead late in the set, McGrane and Ella Grove each had their final kill as a Cardinal before falling 25-17. Byrne was happy with what all four seniors accomplished during their last year in red and black.

Ella Grove goes for the kill in the first set during Alexandria's 3-0 loss to Sartell in the Section 8AAA semifianl match. (Jared Rubado / Echo Press)
Ella Grove goes for the kill in the first set during Alexandria's 3-0 loss to Sartell in the Section 8AAA semifianl match. (Jared Rubado / Echo Press)

“I’m very pleased with what they’ve done this season and tonight,” she said. “They gave everything they had and left everything on the floor. That’s all we can ask of them. It’s hard when you’re a senior. It’s the end of the road. They showed great leadership this year, and we want to build on that going forward.”

Following the offseason, 12 Cardinals will return for the 2020 season. Byrne hopes that another year of experience will help them raise the bar next fall.

“We’ve got to have the mindset and stronger mental toughness,” Byrne said. “We need to show confidence and play with confidence on the floor. That’s not something we can give them, but they have to earn it themselves. They need to carry themselves with composure and competitiveness to be that confident player. Again, we are heading in the right direction and I’m looking forward to next year.”

SARTELL- ST. STEPHEN 3, ALEXANDRIA 0

(25-14, 25-16, 25-17)

ALEXANDRIA - Tessa McGrane - 2 assists, 18 digs; Madison Heid - 2 kills, 1 block, 2 digs; Lilly Thul - 1 kill, 1 block; Lexi Cole - 1 kill; Cora Larson - 3 digs; Maggie Anderson - 1 kill, 1 block, 1 assist, 3 digs; Erika Roderick - 2 kills, 21 assists, 2 digs; Ella Grove - 2 kills, 1 block, 7 digs; Mia McGrane - 15 kills, 7 digs; Micaela Nelson - 2 aces, 1 kill, 5 digs