Mankato East volleyball coach Dan Blasl knows his team is not a legitimate contender for the Big Nine Conference title this season.

With only two seniors in a starting lineup that includes a freshman and a sophomore, the Cougars are more about learning how to win games, rather than championships.

On Tuesday, at the East gym, the Cougars took on Big Nine Conference rival Owatonna and wound up losing 25-13, 25-20, 25-21.

While the home team demonstrated improvement as the match went on and showed flashes of putting together some good runs, it couldn’t handle the more experienced Huskies.

And they did not have much of an answer for junior outside hitter Mehsa Krause, who finished with 17 kills.

“Yeah, she’s a good player,” East’s junior hitter Destiny Reasner said. “We noticed she was hitting down the line a lot so we shifted our block that way and made her hit cross court. It seemed to slow her down a little.”

Teammate Ava Boerboom, a senior middle hitter, agreed: “When we shifted over to block the line, we put more of our passers in the middle to try to handle the hits.”

East stayed close in the opening game and trailed 19-13 before Owatonna went on a six-point run to close it out. A kill and an ace tip by Krause, another kill by Brooke Miles and and two mishits by the Cougars accounted for the game-ending rally.

In Game 2, East built a 16-13 lead before Owatonna again mounted two late runs to pull out the win. A four-point surge gave the Huskies a 17-16 lead, but East answered with three straight points. A kill and two ace blocks by Emily Hacker put East on top 19-17.

Owatonna eventually evened the score at 20 before reeling off five straight points to end the contest. Two kills by Lauren Bangs and another by Samantha Bogen fueled the Huskies’ rally.

Game 3 was close in the early going before Owatonna opened up leads of 15-9 and 19-10. East then went on a 6-1 spree as Jayda Swalve and Reasner delivered kills and Hacker added an ace block. East closed the gap to 22-19 but Owatonna stayed on top to pull out the 25-21 win.

Reasner led the Cougars with 10 kills. Halle Huber handed out nine assists, and Lynsey Magaard and Hacker each had 10 digs. Boerboom led East with two ace blocks.

“We’re learning,” East coach Blasl said. “We’re all keeping our heads up and the upperclassmen are helping out the younger players. It’s kind of a work in progress.”

Boerboom again concurred: “Our practices are still a lot of fun. Sometimes it seems as if some of the younger players lose a little confidence in games, but we try to pump them back up and keep them going. We’re just trying to get better every match.”

The Cougars (2-5, 2-4 in Big Nine Conference) travel to Big Nine Conference power Rochester Mayo on Thursday.

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