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Mathiowetz shines, helps Knights take home conference title

File photo by Steve Muscatello Sleepy Eye St. Mary's hitter Madison Mathiowetz was named the 2020 All-Journal Volleyball Player of The Year.

SLEEPY EYE — Making plenty of moves around the volleyball court within the past two seasons, Sleepy Eye St. Mary’s junior Madison Mathiowetz became one of the Tomahawk Conference’s best hitters in a shortened 2020 campaign.

Mathiowetz started last season as a setter but switched to middle hitter and played more all around the court in efforts to utilize her ability to pass, dig and bring forth a strong defensive effort. This year, Mathiowetz was primarily the Knights’ middle hitter and ended the season with 196 kills and 155 digs in 12 matches.

She also ended this season with 16 total blocks, 12 ace serves and a 95% serving percentage. Her big-time play in a shortened season was more than enough to make her the 2020 All-Journal Volleyball Player of the Year as voted on by The Journal’s sports staff.

Despite originally expecting to play the season in the spring of 2021 due to COVID-19 and having the fall season confirmed late, the work the Knights put in over the summer had each player ready to go regardless of when the season began.

“It started so crazy,” Mathiowetz said of the 2020 season. “Weren’t expecting to play until the spring time, and suddenly they flipped the switch and they’re like, ‘Yep, you’re going to go in a week’ — a week of practice. So that was kind of crazy, but our team handled it so well. We came into it ready to go, we had been working all summer expecting to play, so we were lucky in that way, too. We were prepared, I thought we came into the season ready to go and we just ran with it from there.”

Mathiowetz’s individual improvements from a year ago came after months of working out in the offseason, working on her hitting and getting comfortable in her spot.

“I worked out this summer, I practiced my hitting, stuff like that,” Mathiowetz said. “But ultimately it was just getting comfortable in the game, getting comfortable in my spot as a middle hitter. Obviously your teammates do the most help they ever could — passing, setting — that stuff is the most important. You can’t get a hit without a dig or a set. But definitely working out in the summer, working out this fall, weightlifting — plyometrics were huge for me — I just think that it boosted my confidence a lot.”

The Knights went 16-9 overall last season and finished 6-2 in the conference, with Mathiowetz finishing with 152 kills and 307 digs. This season, the Knights went 11-1 overall and won the conference with a perfect 8-0 record.

The improvements the Knights saw from a season ago were apparent right out of the gate, dropping just one nonconference meeting early in the season in five sets to New Ulm Cathedral and only going to five sets twice. With no chance at making a playoff run this season due to COVID-19 restrictions, winning the conference was a goal that Mathiowetz said she and the team had.

“We knew [the season] was going to be short, we knew it was going to be sweet, and we wanted to come into it and make some history,” Mathiowetz said. “I haven’t won a conference title in volleyball in my career yet, so that was a fun milestone. We would have liked to take it through playoffs, too, but obviously that didn’t happen. And that was kind of the tough end to the season, but to end the season with a conference championship was the way we wanted to go out.”

As for next season, although this year reminded everyone to take things one day at a time, Mathiowetz said that the biggest focus for the team will be to remain confident and keep rolling.

“I’m super excited for it first of all,” Mathiowetz said of next season. “We have a lot of talent back. We did graduate four seniors — they were amazing, they helped lead us through this craziness, led us to that [conference] championship. But ultimately next year … we’ll have some great veterans that have gotten to play varsity for a year or more. For me [the focus] will be keeping that confidence up, maybe running a couple more plays in there, too. … We’re going to have a target on our back next year, I’m sure, so keeping up with that confidence and keeping rolling with that [will be important].”

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