NEW ULM - The tug of war between Sleepy Eye St. Mary's and New Ulm Cathedral was met with an electric feel from fans of both sides.
But the Greyhounds, fresh off a lineup change to a 5-1 formation, defeated the rival Knights in four sets (25-19, 25-23, 21-25, 25-15) on Thursday night for their first conference victory of the season.
"Both teams were pretty scrappy and that makes the game pretty intense when you get those big saves," said St. Mary's coach Jen Walter. "Cathedral especially, they were picking up balls that our girls were hitting hard."
Staff photo by Steve Muscatello
New Ulm Cathedral’s Amber Hillesheim (12) spikes the ball past Sleepy Eye Mary’s defenders Deonna Brinkman (2) and Tori Anderson (3) during the first game of the match Thursday at CHS.
For more photos of this event go to cu.nujournal.com
The Greyhounds (7-3, 1-2 Tomahawk Conference) edged the Knights (6-4, 1-2) in a late-set scramble in the first set, breaking away from a 19-19 tie to win 25-19 thanks to two kills by Amber Hillesheim and an ace by Makinnon Ehlenz.
"We just knew what we had to do and we wanted to get our first conference win," said Cathedral senior co-captain Karlee Pfaff. "So when we stepped on the court, I think we just brought it all together and really clicked."
Hillesheim stepped up for the Greyhounds, tallying team-highs in both kills with 12 and digs with 23.
"Amber has really done a nice job all around," said Cathedral coach Stef Dietz. "[She's an] all-around player. She had a number of serves - I don't know if it was that comeback game or what, but she also had a lot of nice attacks."
Pfaff was also instrumental for Cathedral, having notched seven kills and 18 digs. Dietz said Pfaff has come into her own since moving from outside hitter to becoming a right-side hitter.
"It's a little bit better because you don't have to time the ball as much because it's a shorter distance," Pfaff said of her position change.
St. Mary's led for almost the entire second set until a kill by Hillesheim knotted the score 17-17. The Knights came back to tie it 20-20 with a kill by Deonna Brinkman, followed by two-straight aces from Lexie Weiss to give them a 22-20 lead.
After a timeout and another kill by Brinkman, Cathedral came back with the help of an attack error by Brinkman that was followed by another kill by Hillesheim. Ehlenz finished the set - this time with a service ace - to give Cathedral a 25-23 second-set victory to go up 2-0.
St. Mary's avoided getting swept by winning the third set 25-21, led by four of Brinkman's 12 kills along with two service aces by Andrea Schwartz.
"Our two middles played really well," Walter said. "They were swinging nice and they were hitting the ball hard."
Junior Becca Schmitz, who is the tallest on the team at an even 6-feet tall, was the middle hitter opposite Brinkman. Schmitz nearly matched Brinkman's kill total, falling one short with 11.
But overall, Walter said her team appeared sluggish at times during the match.
During the fourth set, the Knights came out swinging after the Greyhounds emerged from an 8-8 tie with three-straight points of their own. However, the Knights swung a little too hard as seven-straight attacks sailed out of play to give the Greyhounds an 18-8 lead.
The Knights fought back in leiu of hanging their heads, but could not come back as the Greyhounds took the fourth-and-final set 25-15 with Ehlenz sealing the set with another service ace.
"For the most part, I thought that we controlled the match and we did what we needed to do to get the win," Dietz said.
Although the stretch of attack errors was frustrating, they provided teachable moments for Walter.
"Being smart with the ball when we're in those situations, maybe there's a better play on that ball too," Walter said. "We've been working on trying to pick on the weak spots and reading the floor well too."
Cathedral will try to carry its momentum from Thursday's win onto Monday, when it faces Nicollet at home. St. Mary's will play at Gibbon-Fairfax-Winthrop on Tuesday. Both matches are set to begin at 7 p.m.