By Jim Rueda firstname.lastname@example.org
The Mankato Free Press
---- — ST. PETER — They were tired both physically and emotionally, but Belle Plaine found a way to overcome.
The sixth-ranked Class AA team in the state defeated Kenyon-Wanamingo 3-1 on Saturday at Gustavus Adolphus College to win the Section 2AA title and earn a second-straight trip to the state tournament. Belle Plaine won 25-14 25-23, 17-25, 25-17.
It may not have gone as smoothly as they would have liked, but the Tigers came back in two of the sets to earn victories. Their biggest deficit, not counting the set they lost, was in the second game when Kenyon-Wanamingo built a 9-2 lead. Head coach Cassie Koch called a timeout and did a little reality check with her players.
“I told them they had to acknowledge that they were tired,” Koch said. “They had two good matches during the week and then our football team had a big game on Friday, too. It was an emotional week, and we just weren’t jumping as high as we usually do.”
Koch told her charges they had to compensate by playing more focused and playing smarter. The players listened as they rallied to tie the game at 13 and then again at 17 before earning the 25-23 win.
“That was a big win for us,” Belle Plaine freshman Mariena Hayden said. “We knew we just had to pull together and get back to our game and good things would happen.
Hayden led the Tigers with 19 kills and seven digs. Teammate MaryKay Nasby smacked 13 kills and had six digs.
When Kenyon-Wanamingo came back to win the third set, Nasby took it almost as a personal afront.
“That shouldn’t have happened,” Nasby said. “It was almost embarrassing, really. We just regrouped and said there’s not going to be a fifth set.”
The fourth game was close most of the way before Belle Plaine pulled away at the end. Leading 17-15, the Tigers wen on a 4-0 run to take control. An ace tip by Amara Meyer, a kill from mid-court by Nasby, another kill by Hayden and a ace serve by Elizabeth Johnson accounted for the run.
The Knights tried to come back and made it a 22-17 match, but Belle Plaine scored three straight points to win it. Another down-the-line kill by Hayden, a shared block by Emily Vinkemeier and Kaylee Hentges and then a hit out-of-bounds by Kenyon-Wanamingo ended the match.
“It feels great,” Hayden said. “I was there last year, and now it’s great that the other players my age are going to get a chance to experience state, too.”
Meyer ended up with 11 kills and led the team with seven blocks. Hentges also had seven blocks and Devin Lehman dished out 43 assists.
Belle Plaine plays in the first round of the state tournament on Thursday at either 5 p.m. or 7 p.m. at Xcel Energy Center.