LSH volleyball

Le Sueur-Henderson senior middle hitter Kim Kuechle (12) has moved into a starting role this season, helping the Giants reach the state volleyball tournament for the second time.

Pat Christman
The Free Press, Mankato, MN

A year ago, the Le Sueur-Henderson volleyball team fell a game short of the state tournament, and the Giants entered this season determined not to miss out on another trip to St. Paul.

And why not? They team had a pair of third-year varsity outside hitters and a setter who played on the 2006 squad that went to state.

The biggest change to the lineup came in the middle where senior Kim Kuechle moved in as a starter.

“I had big shoes to fill,” Kuechle said. “I was a little nervous at first. But if we played hard and played as a team, I knew I’d be OK.”

Kuechle became the Giants’ top blocker, knocking down 98 attacks, including 90 — 21 solo, 69 assisted — for points, and helping them achieve their goal of getting to state.

Le Sueur-Henderson is the No. 3 seed in the tournament and will play Minnehaha Academy at 7 p.m. today at the Xcel Energy Center.

“We work on blocking a lot in practice,” Kuechle said. “I knew it would be one of my biggest roles and tried to focus on that. It has a big effect on the rest of the defense.”

Giants coach Dave Nixon agreed.

“She has been a key part of our success,” he said. “She’s improved a ton from last year. ... We lost two middle blockers (to graduation). She’s been a pleasant surprise.”

The 6-foot Kuechle has 127 kills, one of five players to record more than 100 kills for the state’s sixth-ranked Class AA team.

Senior Kaitlyn Braun lead the way with 241 kills, followed by junior Morgan Meger with 221. Sophomore Gretta Schultz has 185 kills, while junior Megan Zeiher has 106.

“It’s pretty spread out,” Nixon said, “and that’s been a big part of our success — all five hitters. We don’t rely on one or two all the time.”

That’s made life easy for senior setter Shelly Blaschko, who has 773 set assists.

“We knew we had some strong players back,” Kuechle said. “They’re all really talented. It’s easier than having one main person.”

Blaschko was the backup setter on the 2006 state team and teammates with Kuechle’s sister Kelsey, who was a junior that season.

Asked to compare the two teams, Nixon said. “(This year) we’re deeper, and we’re a little taller. I think our defense is as good, and I think our offense is a little more spread out. We’re a little more balanced. ...

“We’re hoping to get in the top three. We’d love to make it to the state championship match. We know we can get there if things go well.”

Another area where the Giants have been strong has been serving.

Braun has 75 ace serves, six away from the school record she set last season. She also has 250 service points, the school record in the rally-scoring era and 18 away from the overall mark.

“Our bench and our role players have been good, too,” Nixon said. “It’s a great team.”

The Class AA’s top seed is Marshall, while Byron is No. 2, and New London-Spicer is No. 4. Le Sueur-Henderson finished the season 28-3. Minnehaha Academy is 23-8.

Thursday’s winner will play either Delano or Byron at 7 p.m. on Friday. The championship game will be played at 3 p.m. Saturday.

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