NEW ULM - Passing may not be the most glamorous part of the game of volleyball, but Thursday's Tomahawk Conference match between Springfield and Minnesota Valley Lutheran demonstrated just how crucial it is to success.
While the Tigers were able to consistently set up their powerful hitters with their passes, the Chargers struggled most of the night to put the ball in the best possible spots for their own attack. The result was a 25-9, 25-17, 25-21 Springfield victory.
"We've been struggling to play consistent, and I thought tonight that we did a nice job of that," Springfield head coach Tiffany Thedens said. "Everybody came to play and it was a good night."
Staff photo by Steve Muscatello
Springfield’s Heidi Veenstra spikes the ball past the block of Minnesota Valley Lutheran’s Rylee Weisensel (6) Thursday at MVL.
MVL recovered from a slow start to make things competitive in the final two sets, but the team never quite found its rhythm.
"The passes weren't on, and we really just needed to get that so that I could just get them up so the hitters could just wail on it," MVL senior setter Martha Johnston said. "They normally can, they can get those down, but we just needed those passes tonight."
The Tigers were clicking right from the beginning of the match, racing out to a 7-0 lead in the first set. The run included back-to-back ace serves by Tiffany Schwanke (four aces, eight kills) as part of a six-point service run.
With the score at 11-2 the Chargers called a time out, after which they regrouped to put together a 3-0 stretch, but Springfield's Morgan Hansen followed with a four-point service run that included an ace serve and a pair of Schwanke kills that gave the Tigers back the momentum.
Hansen (five service aces, 14 digs) later hit back-to-back booming kills to brought up set point for the Tigers, which they converted on their first attempt when the Chargers were unable to return a serve by Jordan Salonek (nine kills, three blocks).
Hansen was a potent threat for the Tigers throughout the match, leading the team with 15 kills, a number of them thundering shots that were hit with pin-point precision. She also mixed up her attack with some tip-kills and tight-angle hits that landed in the forecourt.
"When the sets push out too far I just cut it and hit to the forecourt, and usually they're not really ready for it, so it lands," Hansen said.
Kills by Rebecca Olsen (five kills) and Carlie Maasz (five kills, seven digs, two blocks) helped MVL mount an early 5-2 lead in the second set, but a stretch of three-straight kills by Hansen, followed by a kill by Heidi Veenstra and an ace serve by Kaitlyn Macht brought the Tigers storming back.
The Chargers kept the set close for a while and tied things up at 11-11 - with two kills by Sarah Burk (four kills, four blocks) and a combined ace block by Burk and Maasz highlighting the team's offense - but the Tigers kept composed and ended the set with a 14-6 run that included three late kills by Schwanke, the third on set point.
In the third set, an inspired stretch of play from Rylee Weisensel (five blocks, four kills) that included two-straight kills followed by a combined ace block with Maasz helped MVL keep pace with the Tigers until the score was tied at 8-8. However, at that point a 7-0 Springfield run that included a six-point service run by Hansen put Springfield ahead for good.
The Chargers ended the match on a 10-6 run, holding off two match points with kills by Johnston (four kills, 18 set assists, six digs) and Alexa Alfred, but the match ended on an attack by Olsen that sailed long.
"We didn't get our offense going, that was pretty tough," MVL head coach Sara Gieseke said. "Our serve-receive wasn't there and our setter was really running around, and when you pull the setter that far off the net it's pretty tough to get a kill."
In addition to strong hitting from Schwanke, Hansen and Salonek, the Tigers received six kills from Veenstra and three kills from setter Shelby Schultz (28 set assists), which kept the Chargers' defense under constant pressure.
MVL libero Allison Collum contributed eight digs and junior Mariah Stein had seven digs and two service aces in the Chargers' losing effort. Springfield libero Kasey Kretsch notched 13 digs.
The Chargers (2-6-2) will compete in the Waterville-Elysian-Morristown Invitational on Saturday.
"I think they just need to keep their heads up," Gieseke said of her players. "There's a long season and we are a very young team, they'll be able to learn from this. Springfield has very powerful hitters and good servers, so we did pretty good coming back from that first set."
The Tigers (6-1, 3-0) will host Cedar Mountain/Comfrey on Tuesday.