NEW ULM - Just by looking at the final score line, it may appear that Thursday's Section 2A, North championship volleyball match was a comfortable win for the BOLD Warriors against Springfield.
The eventual outcome of the match, however, may well have been decided by the final two points of the third set.
BOLD broke a 24-24 tie by winning those final two points, taking an irreversible hold of the momentum of the match en route to a 26-24, 19-25, 26-24, 25-14 victory.
Staff photo by Steve Muscatello
Springfield’s Morgan Hansen (4) dives for the ball during the Tigers’ Section 2A playoff loss to BOLD Thursday at New Ulm High School.
"Volleyball's a game of momentum, and when one team gets it, it's hard to get it back," Springfield senior Tiffany Schwanke said.
With both teams playing a high level of volleyball throughout the contest, in the end the Tigers made too many costly errors, leading to narrow losses in the critical first and third sets.
"We just made a lot of errors tonight," Springfield head coach Tiffany Thedens said. "We really struggled with our serving, our hitting was really struggling - chalk this one up to too many errors."
In the first set, neither team was able to pull out to much of a lead. With the score at 22-22 - the 12th tied score of the set - the Warriors won two straight points to bring up set point.
But the Tigers didn't go down without a fight.
The ensuing point saw phenomenal play from both sides. A number of desperate saves from each team - including a one-handed dig by the Tigers' Morgan Hansen on a ball that seemed destined to hit the floor - made for a lengthy rally, which Schwanke ended with a kill to cut the lead to 24-23.
An error by the Warriors on the next point tied up the score, but Springfield committed errors on the following two points to fall into a 1-0 hole.
A key stat in the first set was the Tigers' five missed serves compared to BOLD's one missed serve.
Springfield rebounded by building an early lead in the second set that it didn't surrender the rest of the way.
An ace block by Molly Dunn capped a 4-0 Tigers run to begin the set, after which they managed to pull ahead for their largest lead at 17-8.
The Warriors countered with a 6-1 run, but Springfield came out on the winning end of another lengthy rally to halt BOLD's momentum.
An ace block by Springfield senior Shelby Schultz brought up set point, which Schwanke converted with a kill two points later to tie the match at 1-1.
"I thought our passing was much better after the first game," Tigers senior Kasey Kretsch said. "The first game was a little rough, but after that it stepped up, and our coverage of the tips got better as the game went on."
An ace block by Hansen and a kill and an ace by Schwanke helped the Tigers build an early 4-1 lead in the third set, after which they were able to maintain a slim lead throughout most of the rest of the set.
However, after an ace by Schultz gave Springfield a 15-11 lead, BOLD fought back to tie the score at 15-15 to set up a dramatic finish to the set.
The teams fought through five more tied scores until the Tigers created some separation, with a kill by Schwanke giving them a 23-21 advantage. An ace block by BOLD's Taylor Ebnet followed by a pair of Springfield hitting errors, however, brought up set point for the Warriors at 24-23.
Springfield senior Jordan Salonek came up with a kill to tie the score at 24-24, but consecutive hitting errors by the Tigers on the final two points gave the Warriors a crucial 2-1 advantage.
"I think definitely they took the momentum in the third set and they just ran with it, and we couldn't get it back," Thedens said. "It's tough to keep the momentum going when you miss a serve or you hit a ball into the net, it's hard to string it together when you continue to make errors."
A tip kill by Salonek and a kill by Hansen helped the Tigers take a 3-1 lead in the do-or-die fourth set, but the Warriors countered with a 9-0 run - a stretch that included six Springfield errors - to take a commanding 10-3 lead.
Springfield kept its hopes alive by keeping BOLD within striking distance, but too often the Warriors were able to dig up the best hits that the Tigers could send their way.
"It's tough when we know that we're good hitters and every ball that we hit is being blocked and dug up," Schwanke said. "You're wondering to yourself, 'What am I doing wrong?", but in the end, we just had to believe in ourselves."
"It's different, because throughout the season we have always been able to dominate with our strong hitters, but it was something that we had to overcome, and we just couldn't seem to find the floor tonight," Kretsch added.
BOLD didn't have a comfortable time finishing of the victory until launching a 9-3 run to end the match, which was capped by a kill from Baylie Kubesh - her 12th of the match.
The Warriors will now take on Martin County West on Saturday at Gustavus Adolphus College for the Section 2A title.
Leading the way statistically for the Tigers were five seniors - Kretsch (22 digs), Schultz (three ace serves, 37 set assists), Hansen (16 kills), Schwanke (17-for-17 serving, one ace, 34 digs, 14 kills) and Salonek (seven kills). Defensive specialist Kaitlyn Macht rounds out the list of seniors on the team.
"They've done a great job of being leaders, they've done a great job of helping the underclassmen learn the game, teaching them what they can," Thedens said. "They've been really awesome leaders on and off the floor for me."
Though the end of the season came earlier than the Tigers had hoped, Kretsch was able to focus on the team's accomplishments during a season in which it finished 26-5.
"We obviously wanted to move on, but we're still really proud of what we did throughout the season," Kretsch said. "We've always taken pride in how well we all get along and how well we work as a team. It's tough as seniors to see that behind us now, but it was a good season. It was a lot of fun, with the new coach and everything."