SHERBURN - When Mary Sussenguth learned her volleyball team's first-round opponent in the Class A state tournament, the second-year Martin County West mentor just smiled and maintained her positive attitude.
Sussenguth and her unranked Mavericks (23-9-1) deliver the first serve of the state quarterfinals against the Class A No. 1-ranked and defending state champion Bethlehem Academy Cardinals of Faribault (23-7) at 1 p.m. Thursday at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
The role of David in another battle against a Goliath, however, is nothing new to Section 2 champion Martin County West.
STAMPEDING TO STATE — Members of the Martin County West Maverick volleyball team opening the Class A state tournament quarterfinals at 1 p.m. Thursday at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul include, front row (l-r): Hailey Leiding, manager Alyssa Behrends, Libbie Lange, Jackie Schliesmann, Morgan Williamson and manager Stacie Vonderharr. Back row: Assistant coach Sarah Rohman, head coach Mary Sussenguth, Haley Jensen, Molly Klima, Kyra Dorr, Taryn Tumbleson, Kennedy Janssen, McKenna Taylor, Kate Thiesse, Reilly Geistfeld, Autumn Smith, Summer Schuneman, Jordan Gregory and assistant coach Amanda Larson. Photo by Leanna Becker
In fact, the Mavericks swept fellow co-Valley Conference champion Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial in three games during the South Sub-Section finale to avenge a 3-2 regular-season loss to the Knights. Martin County West then posted a three-game shutout over BOLD to dethrone the 2011 Section 2 champion to qualify for this week's three-day state event.
"We see it as an opportunity to play the best. Obviously, we don't expect any easy matches at the state tournament," said Sussenguth, who engineered Martin County West's third state appearance in the last five seasons and fourth overall bid. "I'm sure there are a number of teams overlooking us, but they can't take away our girls' passion for playing the game.
"When we take the court, it will be a true team effort."
Sussenguth's pre-tournament analysis proved as accurate as one of senior setter Morgan Williamson's team-leading 489 assists on the season.
Williamson, who has distributed a stellar 1,058 set assists during her three-year varsity career, has efficiently and effectively utilized a balanced five-hitter attack that keeps opposing blockers literally on their toes every play. Junior setter Kennedy Janssen, Williamson's heir apparent as playmaker, also has doled out 225 assists on the year.
Junior jumping jill Kate Thiesse and sophomore spiker Taryn Tumbleson top the Mavericks' hard-hitting frontline with 297 and 207 kills, respectively, but the point production does not stop there.
Senior middle hitter Libbie Lange has supplied 135 spike-winners on the season, sophomore outside hitter Hailey Leiding has delivered 122 kills, while freshman phenom Jordan Gregory has contributed 117 kills.
The 5-foot-11 Lange paces the blue-and-black attack's defensive effort near the net with 100 blocks, while Thiesse has rejected 93 opposing spikes. Leiding (75), Tumbleson (65) and Gregory (50) round out the air-traffic controllers for Martin County West.
"While opposing teams cannot focus on trying to stop just one or two of our hitters, our backrow players have done a great job of frustrating opponents," said Sussenguth.
Sophomore libero Molly Klima paces the backrow defenders with a team-best 515 digs on the current campaign, while senior Jackie Schliesmann and junior Autumn Smith have dug up 350 and 301 opposing spikes, respectively.
With three Class A all-state tournament selections - 5-10 senior middle hitter Maddie Borwege, 5-8 senior outside spiker Jessie Mathews and 5-6 sophomore outside hitter Payton Schultz - returning to the court for Bethlehem Academy, all of the Maverick defenders will need to have their hands ready and feet moving during Thursday's quarterfinal clash.
Borwege, who recorded her 1,000th career kill earlier this fall, literally tops the Cardinals' frontline attackers with team-leading totals of 265 kills and 118 blocks.
Schultz has pounded down a second-best team mark of 161 kills, while Jessie Mathews and sophomore middle hitter Lauren Mathews round out a balanced arsenal with 145 and 144 spike-winners, respectively. The 5-11 Lauren Mathews also has produced a No. 2 block total of 117.
Eighth-grade phenom Payton Nutter puts the Bethlehem Academy offense in motion from her setter's spot, in addition to pacing the service performance by lining home 38 aces.
Nutter returns to her playmaking role after helping guide the Cardinals to their fifth state championship a year ago to complement the program's first-place showings in 2009, 2007, 2005 and 2003.
Bethlehem Academy, which captured its 13th consecutive Gopher Conference championship en route to 106 straight league match victories this fall, will be making its 10th state appearance in the last 11 years.
The winner between Bethlehem Academy and Martin County West will advance to face either No. 4-seeded and No. 6-ranked Nevis or No. 5-seeded and No. 8-rated Win-E-Mac in Friday's 1 p.m. state semifinal at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
Nevis (24-8-1) - the Class A state runner-up in 2011 - makes its third overall state appearance, while Win-E-Mac of Erskine (27-6) - last year's consolation champion - returns to state for its 12th time.
No. 2-seeded and No. 3-ranked Minneota (29-3) faces unranked North Woods of Cook (23-3) in a 3 p.m. state quarterfinal clash on Thursday on Court 1, while No. 3-seeded and No. 4-ranked Southwest Christian of Chaska (23-10) takes on unranked Underwood (27-4) in the other 3 p.m. state quarterfinal on Court 2.
Minneota, who won the bronze medal in 2011, qualified for its ninth overall state tournament, while opponent North Woods makes its state debut on Thursday.
Southwest Christian steps onto the state playing surface for its second time ever, while Underwood makes its sixth state appearance overall.
The Class A state championship is slated for 1 p.m. Saturday, with the third-place and consolation finals set for 11 a.m. and 9 a.m., respectively, that day.