SPRINGFIELD - Playing in front of an enthusiastic Parent's Night crowd, Tuesday's Tomahawk Conference volleyball game against Sleepy Eye St. Mary's was destined to be special for Springfield's Morgan Hansen no matter what.
She wasn't able to rest easy though, since she knew that a strong performance would make the evening extra special by bringing her the 17 kills she needed to reach the 1,000-kill milestone for her career.
Hansen was firing on all cylinders all night, pacing the Tigers' offense in a 25-10, 25-13, 25-21 sweep of the Knights. She also didn't let down the Springfield student section that was eagerly counting down her milestone, registering her 1,000th kill late in the third set.
"It was nerve-wracking, but I knew if we played together, I could get it," Hansen said. "It's a really big accomplishment. It's a goal that I've had for a while, so it feels really good."
The Tigers showed that they meant business right from the beginning of the match, taking a 5-0 lead in the first set and never looking back in winning the set by a full 15 points.
"I thought we came out playing really well," Springfield senior Tiffany Schwanke said. "We wanted to win a lot, because it's our Homecoming match, so that had a big impact on how we played."
Hansen recorded four booming kills in the first set along with two service aces, but she really started heating up in the second set.
After the Knights rallied from a 11-6 deficit in the second set to make the score 11-10, Hansen won four of the next six points for the Tigers with decisive kills.
Hansen's kills were exactly what Springfield needed to get back on track in the set as the Tigers finished the game on a 14-3 run. The set was sealed on an ace serve by senior Kaitlyn Macht, which was her third ace of the set.
St. Mary's finally found its rhythm in the third set, opening up a 10-3 advantage with three kills from Jessica Schmitz and two kills and two aces by Deonna Brinkman, but Hansen again helped turn things around for the Tigers.
Hansen earned kills on four of the next five points, adding her 16th kill of the match a few points later as the home side rallied to tie the score at 13-13.
The two teams continued to trade points back and forth after that, with the Springfield student section eagerly anticipating Hansen's milestone kill on each offensive possession by the Tigers. After a miss wide right and a powerful shot that was dug up by the Knights, Hansen finally hit the milestone to make the score 18-16 in the home side's favor.
"We all kind of knew that it was going to happen, and we really wanted to make sure that she got it," Schwanke said. "It was exciting, because it was our Homecoming game, so that was nice to get it at home."
Hansen's 18th and final kill of the match broke a 20-20 tie to give the Tigers the lead for good, with a kill by Heidi Veenstra ending the match.
Despite the unavoidable distraction of chasing down her milestone, Hansen was her normal self during the match.
"Morgan does a great job of being focused on the game when she's in there," Springfield head coach Tiffany Thedens said. "Sometimes she might be a little too focused and makes it harder on herself, but she does a really nice job of coming in and being focused. She didn't say one word to me all night about her 1,000th kill, so I knew she wasn't too worried about that."
In addition to her 18 kills, Hansen had four aces and seven digs in the match. Adding strong contributions for the Tigers were Schwanke (eight kills, eight digs), Veenstra (eight kills), Shelby Schultz (36 set assists), Kasey Kretsch (12 digs, two aces), Amanda Rogotzke (11 digs) and Jordan Salonek (10 digs).
St. Mary's was led by Maddy Helget (four kills, 12 digs), Schmitz (four kills, 12 digs), Brinkman (four kills, five aces), Bethany Berkner (seven set assists) and Lexie Weiss (18 digs).
"We did not come out and play well at all, this is not our potential," St. Mary's head coach Nicole Jensen said. "Like I told the girls, this is the first match that we've played in that we've been beaten in three games. We've gone four games with many teams or five, so it was not what we were expecting."
Although the Knights knew playing the conference leaders was going to be tough, the players recognized that their slow start cost them the ability to make the match more of an evenly-fought contest.
"Definitely we have to get started earlier, we can't wait until the third game to start hitting and bringing the game closer," St. Mary's senior Jenna Hose said. "We have to not get down on ourselves right away."
The Tigers (9-1, 6-0) will get a break before hosting Gibbon-Fairfax-Winthrop for their Dig Pink match on Oct. 2. The Knights (6-6-1, 3-3) will face another tough test when they host Sleepy Eye on Thursday.
"We need to make a big turnaround," Jensen said. "We went five games with Sleepy Eye the last time we played them and we're expecting a battle again."