By Drew Lyon
Special to The Free Press
If only homecoming lasted more than a week.
Mankato Loyola rode the energy of a large home crowd en route to a 3-0 sweep over Valley Conference rival Madelia at Fitzgerald gym.
Scores were 26-24, 25-23, 25-12.
“It was exciting playing in front of a lot of fans,” said junior middle hitter Jordyn Strachan, who finished with a game-high 12 kills and five aces. “We just kind of got on a run and kept going after that.”
The Crusaders raced out to an early 6-1 lead in the first set, and led 16-9 before the Blackhawks launched a run, scoring five straight points to cut the deficit. Trailing 21-17, Madelia again fought back, attacking the net and eventually evening the set at 24 before Loyola scored the final two points to seal a 1-0 advantage.
“We came out with a lot of energy and didn’t let up,” Loyola head coach Kali Gosch said. “Our hitters really stepped up to the plate, and our young setter, Lindsey Theuninck, really played well.”
The second set was a near-replica of the first; Loyola held comfortable leads (12-6, then 21-12) before Madelia, led by outside hitter Andrea Sorenson, clawed its way back. Loyola clung to a 23-22 edge before scoring the final two points, capped by Annie Nawrocki’s tear-dropper that found an open space and put the Crusaders ahead 2-0.
The Crusaders spared the home crowd any further suspense in the final set. Down 9-8, they scored five consecutive points; leading 16-12, the Crusaders scored the final nine points of the match. Strachan’s ace clinched the win.
“The adrenaline was really flowing,” Gosch said. “It was fun to see. It kind of started against Cleveland; we lost a close one against them but played really well. We knew we had a win like this in us, and tonight just proved it, I guess.”
Madelia, meanwhile, is undefeated at home but still searching for its first road win of the season.
“We just seemed to really lack focus when we’re not playing at home,” Madelia coach Kaye Husby said. “It’s not like it’s a long drive (to Mankato). We just need to be ready to play every match, whether it’s home or away.”
Theuninck, an eighth-grader, finished with 31 assists and six digs, and Nawrocki added 12 kills.
“I think we’re figuring it out,” Gosch said. “It’s going to be fun to see what we can do from here on out.”
Loyola (9-8, 3-4 in Valley) and Madelia (9-9, 4-3) both play Saturday in a tournament in St. Clair.