SLEEPY EYE - Fans at Tuesday's non-conference volleyball match between Springfield and Sleepy Eye St. Mary's likely felt a sense of dj vu during the second set of the contest.
In nearly identical fashion to the first set, the two teams matched each other almost point for point up to the mid-point of the set before the Tigers put together a strong run to pull away for the set victory.
Springfield finally broke the pattern with a dominant third set to earn a 25-16, 25-15, 25-9 sweep against the Knights.
"We started off slow, but by the end of the match we started picking it up and doing better," Springfield senior Shelby Schultz said.
Springfield took an early advantage in the first set, but a kill by St. Mary's Nikki Carr followed by an ace by teammate Deonna Brinkman tied the score at 6-6.
The Tigers again edged ahead, but the Knights kept the score close until the score was 12-11, after which Springfield launched a 13-5 run to close out the set.
The second set saw the Tigers again take an early lead, but a kill by the Knights' Becca Schmitz produced the fourth tied score of the set at 6-6.
With the score at 13-12, a lengthy rally in which both sides came up with some dramatic saves proved to be the turning point of the set. The point ended with the Knights hitting the ball into the very top of the net, after which Springfield finished the set with a 11-3 run.
Springfield senior Jordan Salonek brought up set point with her fourth kill of the set, which Schultz converted with an ace serve.
"We didn't come out playing like we should," St. Mary's head coach Nicole Jensen said. "We played tentatively, we were afraid of making mistakes, and a lot of times when you're afraid, that's when you make the most mistakes."
The third set seemed likely to follow the same pattern as the previous two with the score tied 3-3 early on, but the Tigers seized control from that point on.
Springfield's dominance in the set was highlighted by a five-point service run by senior Morgan Hansen that included a pair of aces and three kills by Heidi Veenstra.
The loss soured the Senior Night celebration for Knights seniors Lexi Fischer, Maddy Helget, Chelsea Hoffmann, Jessica Schmitz, Jenna Hose and Karlie Heiderscheidt. However, Fischer was able to draw some positives from the loss.
"We tried to keep our heads us as best as we could, and our digging was really good tonight, so we're happy about that," Fischer said.
Schultz was also complimentary of some of the things St. Mary's showed against her team, which made for some tough passages of play for the Tigers early in the first and second sets.
"They have some pretty strong middle hitters and pretty strong defense too, so I think that's good for us to play against," Schultz said.
Schultz had a team-high 30 set assists for the Tigers, with Hansen adding team highs in kills (13) and ace serves (four).
Also making strong contributions for Springfield (25-4 overall record) were Tiffany Schwanke (10 kills, 14 digs), Kasey Kretsch (16 digs), Veenstra (seven kills, three blocks) and Salonek (eight kills).
Leading the way for the Knights (12-13 overall) were Brinkman (four kills, two blocks, one ace), Becca Schmitz (three kills), Lexie Weiss (nine digs) and Bethany Berkner (seven set assists).
Springfield head coach Tiffany Thedens noted that although her team earned the victory on Tuesday, it will need to significantly shore up its passing and its defense in preparation for the section playoffs, which begin next week.
"We know that we need to play better with section play coming up next Thursday, so hopefully we can figure it out how to get playing better," Thedens said.
Fischer is hoping the Knights will regroup after Tuesday's loss and give the team's seniors a memorable playoff campaign to end their high school careers.
"Hopefully we pick it up and we go far in playoffs, because I'm not ready to end the season yet," Fischer said. "Because it's [the seniors'] last year and knowing that we're never going to play again for high school, it would mean a lot to go far."