The Moorhead volleyball team figured to be a good test for Alexandria on Tuesday with the playoffs just over a couple weeks away, and that’s exactly how it played out.
The Spuds are a Class 4A program that came in with a winning record at 8-7. Alexandria has 13 sweeps this season, but the Cardinals proved they can win a close match too against the Spuds as they secured the match in four sets to improve to 17-1 overall.
“It was just about staying in the present,” Alexandria junior setter Kiya Issendorf said. “That’s what we need to do for every point. We were told that, and we had our normal motto of serve and pass, but we also added defense. We knew that would be a key to compete with them.”
Moorhead led early in the fourth, but Alexandria had a long rally in the middle of the set that led to a 17-12 lead. The Cardinals never wavered from there as they won 25-17 when sophomore Maddie Buysse put the game away with a kill from the right side.
“We talk a lot about grit in practice,” Buysse said. “I think it just took a lot of grit, and we really showed that tonight.”
Issendorf had 34 assists. She has talented seniors to lean on as hitters, and she used them against the Spuds as Charlotte Lempka had a team-high 11 kills and Maggie Anderson added 8. The Cardinals have also seen Buysse and freshman Hadley Thul emerge match by match to be reliable hitters as well. Buysse had 10 kills Tuesday and Thul finished with 8.
“They’ve gotten on the list in moments where we need a point, I can give it to them and they’re doing something with it,” Issendorf said of Thul and Buysse. “They’ve really moved up, and they’ve really impressed me. They keep doing that.”
Alexandria took the first set 25-21. Lempka put down an emphatic kill for the 24th point before senior Cora Larson ended it from the serving line with an ace. The Cardinals used that momentum to dominate the start of the second.
A Lilly Thul kill and an unforced error by Moorhead made it 7-0 right off the bat as the Spuds called a timeout. Moorhead scored four straight points to cut Alexandria’s lead to 20-19, but an Anderson and Lempka kill in a tight set down the stretch helped the Cardinals hold on. Buysse put the set away with a kill from the left side.
Moorhead did not go quietly as the Spuds jumped out to a 6-1 lead in the third and won 25-21. They looked like they might force a fifth, but Alexandria played its best stretch of volleyball midway through the fourth.
The Cardinals have now won 11 straight matches since their loss against Willmar on Sept. 24. That has essentially secured the No. 1 seed in the section already with no other team having a winning record in the 8-3A field.
“We wanted it really, really bad,” Buysse said of the focus the Cardinals had after that loss. “We really want to go to state, and you have to put a lot of work into it to get what you want out of it.”
The win streak also put Alexandria back in contention for at least a share of the Central Lakes Conference title.
Alexandria swept Sartell-St. Stephen on Sept. 7, but the Sabres (11-5, 7-2 CLC) beat Willmar (12-4, 8-1 CLC) in five sets on Sept. 28. Alexandria is tied with Willmar at 8-1 in the CLC and will go on the road to play Sartell for a second time to end the regular season on Oct. 19.
First is a match against Sauk Rapids-Rice (7-11) on Thursday. The Storm is currently second in the Section 8-3A standings behind Alexandria through the QRF on Minnesota-scores.net.
The ultimate goal for this group is to win the Section 8-3A championship, but Issendorf said the Cardinals definitely want to take advantage of a chance to at least share the CLC by winning out over the final two games.
“It would make the past how many years we’ve been playing with each other worth it because we’ve been building up to this year and this season,” she said. “We’ve been looking forward to it, and we’re zoning in on it right now.”
The Cardinals have shown a great ability to focus on each match this year regardless of who is on the schedule. That shouldn’t be a problem over these final two games with so much to play for now over the next few weeks.
“It’s going to take all the focus right now,” Issendorf said. “In practice, it’s not letting up. For me, it’s not getting in my head and getting anxious on the court. In the end, I believe in my hitters and I know who I can go to and that’s what it’s going to come down to.”
ALEXANDRIA 3, MOORHEAD 1
ALEXANDRIA - Tessa McGrane - 2 kills, 19 digs; Erika Wentworth - 2 aces, 2 digs; Hailie Kent - 1 ace, 1 dig; Kiya Issendorf - 2 aces, 2 kills, 2 blocks, 34 assists, 11 digs; Chloe Scholl - 1 dig; Lilly Thul - 2 kills, 1 block, 2 assists, 2 digs; Cora Larson - 2 aces, 5 digs; Hadley Thul - 1 ace, 8 kills, 7 digs; Addie Boesl - 1 ace, 1 kill, 3 digs; Maggie Anderson - 8 kills, 2 digs; Maddie Buysse - 10 kills, 1 block; Charlotte Lempka - 11 kills