MANKATO - The first time the Martin County West Mavericks volleyball team faced off against Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial, the Valley Conference title was on the line.
The Mavericks outlasted the Knights in a five-game nail biter, 25-10, 23-25, 25-20, 16-25, 15-13, on Sept. 24.
This time, the South Sub-Section's No. 1-seeded Martin County West Mavericks made quicker work of the No. 2-seeded Knights by taking a 25-21, 25-20, 25-11 victory in the Section 2A South final on Thursday night at Mankato West High School in Mankato.
GETTING VERTICAL — Martin County West middle hitter Kate Thiesse (7) displays her vertical jump while preparing to crank the volleyball over the ensuing double-block set by Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial’s Chloe Lantz (left) and Elyse Lubbers (16) during Section 2A, South Sub-Section championship volleyball action Thursday night at Mankato West High School in Mankato. Martin County West teammates Haley Jensen (8) and Kennedy Janssen (far right), along with Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial’s McKenzie Schaffer, watch the action. (Photo by Leanna Becker)
The Mavericks (25-6) advance to face North Sub-Section champion BOLD for the Section 2A championship at 6 p.m. Saturday at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter. BOLD advanced by sweeping Buffalo Lake-Hector-Stewart by a 25-18, 25-17, 25-21 decision.
Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial finished its season with a 26-5 overall record.
"That was so fun," said Martin County West head coach Mary Sussenguth. "This was one of the best games we've played all season. Everyone brought energy right from the beginning. It was great to watch."
The Knights jumped out to a 3-0 lead with the help of a few early errors by the Mavericks.
Martin County West junior Hailey Leiding was able to stop the Knights before they gathered real momentum, blocking a McKenzie Schaffer spike off a Samantha Sorenson set assist.
Schaffer, who had seven kills for the Knights, smashed a Maverick overpass on the next play to make it 4-1.
After that, Kate Thiesse, Leiding and Jordan Gregory took over the net and pushed the Mavericks into the lead.
Thiesse tipped a Kennedy Janssen set assist over the net to cut the deficit in half, before Leiding crushed the first of her eight kills from the left side.
Haley Jensen's third serve sailed past the end line, giving the Knights a 5-3 lead, but Thiesse - who recorded a match-leading 12 kills - sent a Janssen assist to the floor making it a one-point game.
Gregory, who tallied seven kills for the Mavericks' balanced attack, then took a turn on the left side by smacking one of Janssen's 35 set assists down to even the game at 5-5.
Autumn Smith then sizzled an ace serve to give the Mavericks their first lead at 6-5, before Thiesse blasted Janssen's assist cross-court on a slide.
After the Knights had trimmed the Mavericks' lead and taken a 9-8 lead behind a pair of Sorenson's six kills, Gregory evened the score with a scorching swing off the left side.
"Offensively, I thought that we played great tonight," said Sussenguth. "Someone stepped up and made a big play, and then another person would take their turn. Everyone just played so well, they were all just spot on today."
Then junior McKenna Taylor showed her offensive skills with back-to-back kills off of Thiesse and Janssen assists to take the two-point lead.
Sorenson cut the Mavericks' edge to one by sending a tip over the net before Taylor, who finished with 11 kills in the match, smacked a quick set on the left side to the floor.
A few points later, Knights senior Abby Friedrichs found the left line of the Mavericks' defense, smashing two of her seven kills to the floor to even the game at 13-13.
"Defensively, they weren't letting anything hit the floor and they were getting the ball right to Kennedy to set up the offense," Sussenguth said about the Maverick defense, including defensive specialists Autumn Smith, Jensen and Molly Klima. "These girls are all so coachable that when we tell them something, they are able to go right out there and do it."
In a game that featured four ties, two of Thiesse's three aces helped to set the Mavericks up for the critical points to win Game 1.
With a 20-18 lead, Thiesse blasted an untouched ace on the line to go up 21-18 before hitting a trickling serve off the net for the second of her three aces and a 22-18 advantage.
It was Taylor who got the Mavericks' offense back on track after Friedrichs smacked another of her seven kills to get the Knights within one at 22-21.
Taylor sent a Janssen set assist cross-court for the 23-21 lead, and a pair of Knight hitting errors gave the Mavericks a 25-21 win.
Sophomore Reilly Geistfeld smacked three of her seven match kills as she helped the Mavericks to take an 11-6 lead and eventual 25-20 Game 2 victory.
With a 2-0 match lead, the Mavericks jumped on the Knights early in Game 3.
After nine straight serves from the Maverick libero, Autumn Smith, Martin County West had taken a 15-3 lead.
With the help of Knights errors, including a Sorenson serve that sailed out on the final point, the Mavericks took the 25-11 win in Game 3.