ST. PAUL - Southwest Christian front-row spikers Mackenzie Horkey, Abby Palkert and Ally Krommendyk literally towered above the net at the Xcel Energy Center on Thursday.
The 5-foot-8 Horkey and the 6-foot tandem of Palkert and Krommendyk controlled the action near midcourt to guide the No. 3-seeded Stars to a 25-18, 25-16, 25-9 sweep over the Martin County West Mavericks during Class A state quarterfinal volleyball action in St. Paul.
Horkey blasted a match-leading 26 kills to pace the Stars' offense, while Palkert and Krommendyk added 10 and five, respectively.
TOPPING THE DEFENSE — Martin County West hitter McKenna Taylor (second from left) prepares to hammer a set from Maverick teammate Kennedy Janssen (11) over the top of a double-block set by Southwest Christian’s Abby Vandergalien (third from left) and Abby Palkert during Class A state quarterfinal volleyball action Thursday at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Martin County West’s Kate Thiesse (7) and Autumn Smith watch the action. (Photo by Leanna Becker)
QUICK REFLEXES — Martin County West defensive specialist Molly Klima digs up a hard spike by Southwest Christian during Class A state quarterfinal volleyball action Thursday at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Maverick teammates Autumn Smith (20) and Reilly Geistfeld watch the play. (Photo by Leanna Becker)
The Stars (29-5) advance to face No. 2-seeded Minneota (30-3) in the championship semifinals at 3 p.m. today back at the Xcel Energy Center. Minneota advanced by beating Carlton, 25-21, 25-8, 25-18, in quarterfinal action Thursday.
Martin County West (26-7) will face Carlton (26-6) in the consolation semifinals at 3 p.m. today in St. Paul.
"They were a very good team and they had a lot of size in the front," said Martin County West head coach Mary Sussenguth. "We hadn't faced a team with a powerful outside hitter (Horkey) like theirs all season, so that was a challenge for us."
The towering Stars' trio also doused the electrically-charged Maverick offense, holding Kate Thiesse and Hailey Leiding to five kills each, while McKenna Taylor provided a team-leading six kills.
"I think that they were able to throw up a large block with their height at the net, and they really focused on stopping Kate," said Sussenguth. "That gave Hailey some chances early on, but then they were able to keep our offense from really attacking."
After the Stars took the opening game by a 25-18 score, the Mavericks charged back to take a 4-1 lead in the second game.
After Taylor smashed one of Kennedy Janssen's 18 set assists to the floor to even the game at 1-1, a pair of hitting errors by the Stars' front row fueled the Mavericks' 3-1 advantage. Molly Klima then sizzled a service ace off the net to give the Mavericks a 4-1 edge.
Unfortunately for the Mavericks, Horkey responded for the Stars. The senior outside hitter pounded four straight kills, three off of set assists from Rachel Carlin, to even the game at 4-all.
"I was proud of the girls, even though the other team was creating some challenges for us. They never gave up and never stopped fighting," said Sussenguth. "We were able to make little technique changes in the second game, but nothing major. They just were a better team today."
The Stars took a 6-4 lead on the strength of two Palkert attacks, before Abby Vandergalien sent a serve long to keep the Mavericks within one at 6-5.
Southwest Christian took a 10-8 lead on another Horkey attack, before the Mavericks went on a four-point run to take the lead. Martin County West's Jordan Gregory, who had four kills in the match, smacked one down to cut the Stars' lead to 10-9.
Reilly Geistfeld then blasted a Janssen set down to the floor to even the game for the second time. Taylor continued the Mavericks' rally, spiking a set down the middle before Gregory sent a shot down the left line to take MCW to a 12-10 lead.
The Stars quickly evened the game at 12-all on Krommendyk and Palkert attacks, before sending the ball back to the Mavericks on a long serve.
Holding a 13-12 lead, the Mavericks were unable to regain control of the ball as Palkert and Vandergalien cranked a pair of kills to give the Stars a 14-13 lead.
While a spiking error sent the ball back to Martin County West, Klima's serve sailed out. Three offensive errors by the Mavericks extended the Stars lead to 18-14, and they would not relinquish it to eventually collect the 25-16 Game 2 win.
With a 2-0 edge in the match, the Stars cruised through Game 3, winning it 25-9 to advance to the semifinals.
In the top part of the Class A state tournament, No. 1-seeded Fillmore Central opened with a 19-25, 25-16, 25-14, 25-21 quarterfinal win over Ada-Borup, while No. 4-seeded Win-E-Mac swept No. 5-seeded Nevis, 25-21, 25-20, 25-20.
Fillmore Central (34-2) squares off against Win-E-Mac (31-3) in a 1 p.m. championship semifinal match today at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
Ada-Borup (23-9) dropped into the consolation bracket and will face Nevis (22-10-3) in a 1 p.m. semifinal clash.
The Class A consolation finals will take place at 9 a.m. Saturday, followed by the third-place match at 11 a.m. and the state championship clash at 1 p.m. - all at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.