MAYER – For Mayer Lutheran senior Claudia Stahlke, senior night was a perfect opportunity to step up for her team. After Mayer Lutheran found themselves down 2-1 to conference rival Belle Plaine, Stahlke delivered in the clutch for the Crusaders, leading them to a thrilling 3-2 (23-25, 25-14, 24-26, 25-17, 15-10) victory to earn a share of the MN River Conference title.
“It was a lot of fun,” Stahlke said. “We had a lot of energy on our side. It was just a great night to finish the regular season.”
In set four, Mayer Lutheran was rolling as they led the Tigers 18-12 and were looking to force a fifth set. A 4-0 run by the Tigers brought them within two, but that’s when Stahlke stepped up her game and took over the match offensively and defensively.
“I told her this is you,” Grimsley said about what she told Stahlke during the fourth set. “You get it. You can take her one-on-one. Even if that last set there, we knew it was going to her (Belle Plaine’s Mikayla Coops) every time. It’s just a matter of Claudia having a one-on-one this time, and it worked out well for us.”
Stahlke took over the set for the Crusaders with her talent at the net. A block, followed by two kills, finished off with another block put Mayer Lutheran up 23-16 and forced a decisive fifth set. In the fourth set alone, Stahlke had five kills and two blocks, helping Mayer Lutheran stay alive.
“I couldn’t have done it without the team,” Stahlke said. “I really didn’t want to give up. I think the energy and communication allowed us to (succeed).”
The win in set four for Mayer Lutheran kept their conference title hopes alive, but it wasn’t easy. Belle Plaine stole set one away from the Crusaders despite Mayer Lutheran holding leads of 16-9 and 20-16. Even though the Crusaders let a few moments slip away, the fight was always there.
“They stole game one from us, and they stole game three from us,” Grimsley said. “That’s hard to come back from. We just talked a lot about staying strong and trying to play steady. It was just keep the ball off the floor. Just keep getting opportunities. They just fought hard.”
Thanks to Stahlke’s impressive finish to set four, the Crusaders had a chance to pull off a second five-set win in as many days. An attack error by the Crusader brought Belle Plaine within one, but a block and kill from senior Olivia Tjernagel gave the Crusaders some breathing room. Stahlke would add another kill and a block down the stretch, as Mayer Lutheran completed the comeback in another five-set match.
“It shows that we’re not going to give up,” Stahlke said. “It makes us push even harder and to finish and fight every time.”
It’s the second match in a row the Crusaders have erased a 2-1 deficit and came back to win. With the win, they also improved to 3-0 in five-set matches as they’re finding ways to win.
“It’s great for the future,” Grimsley said. “It’s good to have that in our back pocket.”
For the complete story and more HJ sports coverage, check out the Friday, October 18 edition of the Herald Journal. Click here for subscription information.