ST PETER — When senior hitter Kirsten Johnson suffered a broken finger near the end of the second set on Saturday, the Belle Plaine volleyball team knew it was going to have to dig deep.
The Tigers responded in a big way at Lund Center, winning three of the final four sets to beat Le Sueur-Henderson 16-25, 25-19, 25-19, 15-25, 15-6 and win the Section 2AA championship. The triumph gives Belle Plaine its first state tournament berth in seven years.
“We had to adjust when Kirsten went out but we pulled through,” Belle Plaine coach Cassie Wolpern said. “We had switch from a 6-2 to a 5-1 and eighth-grader Danielle Taylor had to come in and give us a lot of playing time.
“Sometimes eighth-graders are just naive enough to not realize the ramifications of what’s going on. I guess you call it the innocence of youth.”
Le Sueur-Henderson won the first set between the longtime Minnesota River Conference rivals. The Giants gradually built a 16-12 lead and then outscored Belle Plaine 9-4 the rest of the way. Danica Tiegs had three kills down the stretch and Gabby Thomas ended it with an ace tip. Game 2 went to the Tigers as they led 22-18 when Johnson went up for a block of a Jessica Thelemann shot and broke her pinky as the ball caromed off. Despite the injury, the Tigers pulled out the 25-19 win.
“That was a set we had to have,” LSH coach Dave Nixon said. “We had a chance to win that one before they had a chance to adjust and we didn’t capitalize. We just didn’t execute.”
The Tigers led the third set 21-17 and then pulled away for the victory. Mariena Hayden ripped a middle kill for the 24th point and Haley Fogarty ended it with a kill down the line.
“When Kirsten went out we just had to keep our focus and stick to what got us here,” Fogarty said. “We just all worked together as a team.”