Saints spikers sweep Bucs out of section

GETTING VERTICAL — Blue Earth Area’s Lindsey Norman (8) spikes a set from teammate Alissa Norman (3) over a double block set by St. Peter’s Sarah Conlon (14) and Nicole Ebeling (7) during Section 2AA, South Sub-Section semifinal volleyball action Tuesday night at Mankato East High School. Blue Earth Area’s Sofie Blair (2) and St. Peter’s Paige Hewitt (far right) watch the action. (Photo by Greg Abel)

MANKATO — “It’s tough to block a 6-foot, 2-inch girl who they go to every time,” Blue Earth Area head coach Donna Nawrocki said about the St. Peter Saints.

Using every inch of her 6-2 frame, junior hitter Claire Nuessmeier drilled a match-high 13 kills to power the No. 2-seeded St. Peter Saints to a 25-11, 25-21, 25-20 sweep over the No. 3-seeded Blue Earth Area Bucs during the Section 2AA, South Sub-Section semifinals on Tuesday night in Mankato.

Blue Earth Area closed out the year with a 17-14 record. With the team’s 10th straight match win, St. Peter (20-9) advances to play Kenyon-Wanamingo at 6 p.m. Thursday at New Prague High School for the South Sub-Section championship. The No. 1-seeded Knights defeated Tri-City United, 25-15, 25-5, 25-7, to reach the title match.

Nuessmeier produced the Saints’ first two points on a kill and a block as the team opened the match with a 4-0 lead. Bucs senior setter Alissa Norman served up three points to reduce the team’s deficit to one.

Sophomore outside hitter Carlie Chabot, who went 22-for-22 serving with an ace and 17 points, later responded at the serving line during the Saints’ 9-0 run. The Bucs struggled to return Chabot’s serves and Nuessmeier nailed two kills as the Saints went up, 19-8.

Senior middle hitter Lindsey Norman flew in from the right side with a sideout kill to stop the Saints’ run. Junior outside hitter Hannah Johnson chipped in a kill to bring the Bucs within nine.

Senior setter Kayla Oeltjenbruns put up a set for Nuessmeier, who turned the tide back in favor of the Saints. Oeltjenbruns delivered the final assist to senior right-side hitter Bailey Nesje as the Saints closed out the game on a 6-1 run.

St. Peter added on six more points in Game 2, but were halted when Blue Earth Area senior middle hitter Maddi Oelke came through with a kill, using one of Alissa Norman’s assists.

Senior libero Samantha Naumann then served the Bucs to their first lead of the match. Alissa Norman flipped over a kill to get Naumann to the service line. Senior outside hitter Sofie Blair tipped over back-to-back kills to tie the game at 15.

The Bucs posted three more points for the 18-15 advantage before an error turned the ball back over to the Saints.

Nuessmeier used a light touch for the tip kill and combined with Nesje on the double block to get the lead back. The Saints added four more uncontested points for a 23-19 score. Nuessmeier and sophomore middle hitter Sarah Conlon marked the 24th and 25th points, respectively, to send the Saints up 2-0 in the match.

In a much closer Game 3, the Bucs and Saints recorded five ties until the Saints stretched out a four-point lead. Senior outside hitter Nicole Ebeling tipped over a kill and sophomore setter Paige Hewitt lobbed up a set for Conlon for the Saints’ 17-13 advantage.

Blair, who marked seven kills, later hit the ball out of the reach of Saints senior libero Ellie Johnson to bring the Bucs within two, but the Saints closed out the match with three straight points to get the sweep.

“We played hard the whole entire time. We had a lot of tenacity and comeback in us,” Nawrocki said. “It just wasn’t enough to get over the hump in (Games) 2 and 3.”

Haugen contributed an ace serve during the 3-0 run and finished with three points on 8-for-8 serving. Oeltjenbruns and Hewitt combined equally for 16 set assists.

Blair completed 7 of 8 serves, Alissa Norman dished out 14 assists, Lindsey Norman had six kills and Oelke provided three kills while Naumann went 13-for-13 serving for seven points to close out their prep volleyball careers.

“They play with a lot of heart and they play for each other,” Nawrocki said.