ST. PAUL — Waterville-Elysian-Morristown volleyball coach Crystal Lamont said she sets up a tough schedule every season to prepare her team for its biggest matches of the season.
Consider her mission accomplished.
“It’s a big factor,” Lamont said after the Bucs defeated Henning 25-11, 25-21, 25-18 in the quarterfinals of the Class A state volleyball tournament Thursday at the Xcel Energy Center.
“About five, six years ago, we started (playing a tough schedule), and this is by far the toughest schedule we’ve played. It helps you to prepare for the big tournaments. ... I think it’s an advantage we have over some of the northern teams.”
WEM’s regular-season schedule included Belle Plaine and Concordia Academy, both of which are playing in the state tournament. The Bucs played some Class AAA teams, and there were two matches against Mayer Lutheran. The Bucs defeated Mayer Lutheran, the No. 1-rated team in Class A, in five sets in the section final.
“That (win over Mayer Lutheran) was huge for our confidence,” Lamont said.
Thurday’s first set remained close until a four-point run, highlighted by two ace attacks from Toryn Richards made it 16-9. The Bucs, who made only one serving error and one attack error in the set, scored the final seven points to win 25-11, hitting at 44.8%. Ellie Ready had a tip and two ace serves in the final push.
“We emphasize in every match that we want to limit mistakes,” Lamont said. “We want to put the pressure on the other team and make them make mistakes.”
The Bucs led the second set at 15-1 before scoring four straight points, with Trista Hering making a block. Henning got back within 23-19 before Kylie Pittman had a pair of kills to end the set at 25-21.
“At the beginning of the year, we were kind of holding back on our attacks,” Richards said. “We’ve gotten so much better (at attacking), and we work as a team.”
Delaney Donahue had three kills as the Bucs made a six-point run in the middle of the third set, leading 17-8. Five different players had kills at the end of the set as the Bucs won 25-18 to cruise into the semifinals.
Richards finished with 13 kills and 13 digs, while Hering had nine kills and four blocks. Donahue had nine kills and 10 digs. Ellie Ready had 28 assists and four ace serves.
The Bucs hit at 26.4%, with only 13 attack errors, well above Henning’s 10.8%, and made 56 digs.
“We want to be the best defensive team at state,” Lamont said. “We want to make it as hard as possible to get a point.”
WEM (33-2) will face Medford, which defeated Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa 3-0 in the quarterfinals, in the tournament semifinals at 3 p.m. Friday. WEM defeated Medford 2-1 in a tournament and 3-0 during the Gopher Conference schedule.
“This was everything I expected,” said Hering, who was a youngster in the stands when WEM made its last trip to the state tournament in 2015. “I thought it was so cool, and they worked so hard and were such a good team. That’s exactly what we are.”
Belle Plaine 3, Marshall 1: In the Class AA Quarterfinals: Belle Plaine upset the second seed 25-15, 25-20, 21-25, 25-22. Senior hitter Mikayla Coops led the way with 18 kills and 21 digs.
Morgan Kruge had 14 kills, and Sarah Lenz finished with 40 set assists. Sydney Meyer also had 21 digs. Lauren Johnson had 17 digs and nine kills.
Belle Plaine will play third-seeded North Branch at 7 p.m. Friday in the semifinals.
Follow Chad Courrier on Twitter @ChadCourrier.