Archive for HJ Sports

ON A MISSION: Tjernagel, Crusaders come out firing in sweep over Cook County

ST. PAUL –  The Mayer Lutheran volleyball opened up their state tournament run with a statement to the rest of the field. The top-seeded Crusaders put on an offensive clinic in their 3-0 (25-15, 25-9, 25-19) sweep against Cook County in the Class A State quarterfinals Thursday afternoon. While cruising to the win in three-straight sets, the Crusaders had a team attack percentage of .349, with three players having one better than .500.

“We knew we needed to come out and start fast,” Mayer Lutheran coach Joelle Grimsley said. “We talk about that all the time. I got a bunch of oldies out there. We got a lot of seniors, so it’s fun to be able to tell them what to do, and then they just get after it and do what they’re expected to do.”

Sophomore Olivia Tjernagel got the Crusaders rolling with a hot start. With a 10-7 lead in set one, Tjernagel collected a pair of kills, and added a block to spark a big run to pull away from the Vikings.

Olivia Tjernagel reaches high for one of her seven kills. Tjernagel and the Crusaders put on an impressive offensive performance in their sweep against Cook County.

Olivia Tjernagel reaches high for one of her seven kills. Tjernagel and the Crusaders put on an impressive offensive performance in their sweep against Cook County.

“I like having all those seniors out there because I can always go to them,” Tjernagel said. “They know what to do. It’s really helpful to have a lot of seniors with a lot of experience.”

Tjernagel finished with seven kills and five total blocks in the victory. She also finished with an impressive .636 attack percentage, as well.

“She can,” Grimsley said about Tjernagel’s ability to take over a match. “That’s exciting to see for the future, but right now, it’s just fun to see how much she’s grown into actually excelling and being a big part of the offense.”

Tjernagel wasn’t the only the player to come out firing for the Crusaders. Both seniors Maddy Hucky and Sophia Heuer had their rhythm rolling as the duo combined for 19 kills. Hucky, who has the beneficiary of the play of Lauren Wandersee this season, finished with an attack percentage of .529. When Wandersee is in and takes over the setting duties, that frees up Hucky to swing away on the outside, giving Mayer Lutheran another option most teams have never had.

“I don’t know how many teams are able to do that with their setters,” Grimsley said. “We’ve been really fortunate with that. We can mix up our offense and have Maddy hit, or we can have Maddy set all around. Then with Lauren, they just know, I’m going to switch it up. They know exactly what to do. That’s fun to be able to do. I’ve never really had another team that could do that.”

Along with the talented senior class leading the way, sophomore Claudia Stahlke has continued to impress throughout the season. Stahlke, who took over the role for the seniors lost from last year’s team, is finding her groove alongside the seniors at the right time.

“We didn’t know at the beginning of the year who it would be,” Grimsley said. “We kind of played around with a few people to see who would step in, and Claudia came out and finished. She wasn’t real confident at first. She had to build that up with our other players. Now she’s out there getting a lot of swings and kills. It’s been fun to watch her step into that role and take over.”

With the victory, the Crusaders move one step closer to their ultimate goal of repeating as state champions. They’ll face Wadena-Deer Creek in the Class A semifinals Friday, Nov. 10 at 1 p.m.. The Wolverines swept Ada-Borup/Norman County West in their quarterfinals match.

“They know this it,” Grimsley said. “Those nine seniors know, you have two days left together on the court. Then, it will be different for you. They’re going to do everything they can to get back to where they were last year. That’s been our goal all year. We didn’t talk about it. We talked about the journey to get here. Now once we’re here, we’re here to win the tournament. We got a big game tomorrow before we can look at.”



KILLS: Maddy Hucky 10, Sophia Heuer 9, Martina Saulsbury 3, Olivia Tjernagel 7, Madi Beck 6, Claudia Stahlke 3, Symone Jopp 1. DIGS: Heuer 14, Saulsbury 3, Lauren Wandersee 4, Beck 6, Chmielewski 10, Haley Rowher 1, Mallory Kuntz 1. ASSISTS:  Hucky 23, Wandersee 12, Riley Corrigan 3. BLOCKS: Hucky 1, Saulsbury 1, Tjernagel 5, Stahlke 2, Jopp 2.

PREP VOLLEYBALL: Class AA State Volleyball Tournament Preview

ST. PAUL – The field for the Minnesota State High School League Class AA State Volleyball Tournament features some familiar faces, as well as some news ones. Four of the eight teams in Class AA are returning for a second-straight year, including Maple Lake who is looking to defend their state title. Also returning to the tournament this season are Kenyon-Wanamingo, Kasson-Mantorville, and Academy of Holy Angels. New to the tournament this year are Watertown-Mayer, Marshall, North Branch, and Roseau.

The Irish of Maple Lake come into the tournament as the heavy favorite once again. The Irish are a perfect 33-0 entering the tournament, and have lost just 10 sets all season-long. Dating back to last season, the Irish have won 41-straight matches, including a 3-0 sweep against Concordia Academy in the state title game last season.

Below is a look at all eight teams in the Class AA tournament.


The Irish enter the tourney with an unblemished record, and have been the No. 1 ranked team in Class AA all season-long. They are also one of three teams trying to repeat as state champions this season.

Having one of the deepest teams in the state, there are so many ways the Irish can beat you. They feature six different players (Linsey Rachel, Amber Klug, Kaleigh Beehler, Brynn Paumen, Brielle Paumen, and Mollie Scheiber) who had at least 100 kills this season. Rachel leads the way with 356 kills this season, and is just 18 kills away from 2,000 for her career. If that’s not impressive enough, Rachel also is approaching 1,800 career digs, as well.

Brynn Paumen is also on her way to making history as an individual. With a deep run at the state tournament, she’ll likely break the school record for blocks in a single season, despite missing the last month of the season with a back injury.


Linsey Rachel: 356 kills, 48 blocks, 35 aces

Amber Klug: 178 kills, 60 blocks, 37 aces

Brynn Paumen: 158 kills, 123 blocks, 32 aces


After missing out last season, the Marshall Tigers are back at the state tournament for a 26th time in school history. The Tigers have six state titles in school history, including three straight from 2011-2013.

Like the Irish, the Tigers are a very balanced team. They also boast six players with 100 kills or more on the roster, and won their seventh-straight conference championship this season.

The Tigers had five players named all-conference this season, and will be looking to continue their success at the state tournament after missing out last season.


Erica Jones: 305 kills, 29 blocks, 35 aces

Paige Andries: 203 kills, 117 blocks

Whitney Schwartz: 173 kills, 66 blocks


Making their fourth state tournament appearance in school history, and the first since 2015, the Vikings will be looking to break through for the first time.

The Vikings have the player who can lead them there in Cianna Selbitschka. Selbitschka, only a sophomore, leads the team in kills with 462, and which broke the school record for kills in a single season.

A player who has more than 400 kills needs a good setter, and the Vikings have just that in Haley Hadrava, who also broke the school record this season for most set assits in a single season.

The Vikings are a young team with both Selbitschka and Hadrava being sophomores, but also boast some experience with seniors Maddie Hadrava, Katelyn Berg, and Sophie Linder in the starting lineup.


Cianna Selbitschka: 462 kills, 28 blocks, 26 aces

Lydia Langevin: 193 kills, 43 blocks

Haley Hadrava: 50 kills, 31 blocks, 35 aces


The Stars are making their second-straight appearance, and their fifth overall in school history at the state tournament. Last season, the Stars fell in the quarterfinals in three-straight sets to top-seeded Kenyon-Wanamingo.

With a good number of players back form last year’s run, the Stars will be looking to take the next step as they won their first Tri-Metro Conference title since 1999. Although the Stars have had injuries throughout the season, they come in healthy and ready to show what they can do.

Senior Ellie Koontz returns for the Stars and will look to lead her team to a state title in her final season. She leads the team in kills, with 301, and blocks, with 41. Koontz will continue her volleyball career at Marquette University following her high school career, and already has more than 1,000 career kills.

The Stars will also have outside hitter Marie LaFrance back for the tournament this season. Last season, LaFrance suffered a season-ending injury, forcing her to miss the state tournament last year.


Ellie Koontz: 301 kills, 65 blocks, 21 aces

Lauren Link: 237 kills, 29 blocks, 37 aces

Marie LaFrance: 165 kills, 9 blocks, 19 aces


The KoMets of Kasson-Matorville are another team returning to the state tournament and looking to improve their finish from a season ago. The KoMets fell to eventual champion Maple Lake in the semifinals a season ago, and fell to Kenyon-Wanamingo in the third-place game.

The KoMets are not a very deep team with not many players coming off the bench this season. Just like all season long, the KoMets will rely on their starting six big-time throughout the state tournament.

Junior Peyton Suess leads the team in kills with 371, while sophomore Emilee Terry has collected 252 kills this season. Suess, along with teammate Abbey Bigelow are both Division 1 commits for the KoMets.


Peyton Suess: 371 kills, 54 blocks, 41 aces

Emilee Terry: 252 kills, 71 blocks, 8 aces

Abbey Bigelow: 49 kills, 70 blocks, 24 aces


It’s been a long time, but the Watertown-Mayer Royals are back at the state tournament for the first time since 2000. In that state trip in 2000, head coach Andrea Raser was a senior on that team, leading the Royals to their first state tournament appearance in school history.

After dominating Section 5AA play, the Royals will be looking to make some more noise at the Xcel Energy Center.

“Our senior leadership has been huge in setting the tone for our team,” Raser said. “We have three very different seniors with different levels of volleyball experience, but they keep it all in perspective for our younger players. Having five returning players with varsity playing time has also brought experience back this season, especially in how to handle wins and losses. The biggest factor in our success this season is the players wanting to compete and play well for their teammates.”

Senior Ellie Ernhart, who collected her 1,000th career dig this season, is not only one of the top players on the team, but also the vocal leader for the Royals. At libero, Ernhart helps get the offense rolling for her big hitters like Janessa Berrios, Paige Thibault, Kylie Hoese, Monika Czinano, and Vanessa Schroeder.

Junior Nikki McDonald is a key for the Royals. After rolling her ankle in the final game of the regular season, McDonald fought back to get back into the lineup, helping the Royals take down Delano in the section final. McDonald also reached a career milestone this season, reaching 1,000 career set assists.


Janessa Berrios: 334 kills, 18.5 blocks, 46 aces

Paige Thibault: 217 kills, 23 aces

Kylie Hoese: 134 kills, 20 aces

Vanessa Schroeder: 127 kills, 21.5 blocks, 35 aces


The Rams of Roseau are also making their first state tournament appearance since 2000. In that appearance. The Rams also made it to the state tournament in 1999, where they took second place.

Three different players reached career milestones for the Rams this season. Kacie Borowicz recorded her 1,000th career dig, while Victoria Johnson notched her 1,000th career kill. In addition, setter Lyvia Moser reached 1,000 career set assists as well this season.


Victoria Johnson: 464 kills, 101 blocks, 38 aces

Kacie Borowiccz: 275 kills, 31 blocks, 68 aces


After taking third place last season at the state tournament, the Knights will be looking for more.

The Knights are making their second-straight state tournament appearance, and their second overall in school history.

After knocking off SW Christian in three-straight sets in the Section 2AA title game, the Knights look ready to make a deep run at the Xcel Energy Center.

The Knights come in with a record of 22-7, and have the talent and experience to make a deep run.

Follow Kip Kovar on Twitter to stay updated all tournament long.

Twitter: @Kovar_HJSports 

PREP VOLLEYBALL: Class A State Tournament Preview

ST. PAUL – With the state title on the line, the field for the Class A state tournament has some familiar faces. Not only are defending champions Mayer Lutheran back once again, they are also the heavy favorite to repeat as state champions.

Along with the Crusaders are some perennial powerhouses at the Class A level. Bethlehem Academy is back for the 12th time in school history after missing out last season. The Cardinals had their season come to an end in 2016 against Hayfield, resulting in no trip to the state tournament.

Cook County is back in the state tournament for a third-straight year, and Minneota also returns after knocking off Tracy-Milroy-Balaton in the Section 3A title game. TMB had its streak of three-straight section titles snapped with the loss to the Vikings.

Below is a look at all eight teams in this year’s Class A tournament.


The Crusaders are back and ready once again to defend their Class A title. They are coming off one of their most impressive seasons in the program’s history, recording just two losses all season. Those two losses came to some highly-touted teams, Maple Lake and Eagan. Both Maple Lake and Eagan are the top-seeded teams in the Class AA and AAA tournaments, and are the favorites to repeat again, as well.

The Crusaders lost just two players from last year’s team that won the first state title in program history since 1982. With an improved lineup this year, the Crusaders have a great opportunity ahead of them.

Having a senior class loaded with talent, the Crusaders are an experienced group that is tough to match. Maddy Hucky, Sophia Heuer, Nicole Klaustermeier, Mya Chmielewski, Martina Saulsbury, Lauren Wandersee, Haley Rohwer, Madi Beck, and Mallory Kuntz lead a talented senior class that is determined to end their high school career with back-to-back titles.

Not only are the Crusaders loaded with talented seniors, they feature several underclassmen who contribute big-time. Sophomore Olivia Tjernagel is looking for two state titles in two years with the Crusaders. The talented sophomore is already getting looks from programs at the University of Minnesota, North Dakota, and Nebraska.

Tjernagel brings an impressive overall game to the Crusaders. She’s athletic enough to be a threat offensively, and also holds her own with her serves and defense.

Joining Tjernagel in the underclassmen mix is sophomore Claudia Stahlke. Stahlke was along for the state title run a season ago, but has been a key component to the success for the Crusaders this season.

She’s grown into a starting role for Mayer Lutheran this season, playing multiple roles and giving the Crusaders some additional depth. Stahlke has recorded 88 kills this season, and is among the leaders in blocks on the team with 37.

“We are blessed to have 11 returning players from our team last year,” Mayer Lutheran coach Joelle Grimsley said. “The experience is extremely helpful. Playing a tough schedule is also an important factor to our success.”

Mayer Lutheran took home the title at the Class A Showcase this season. In their five matches, the Crusaders lost just one set to some of the teams around the state in Class A, including sweeping Minneota, which is the No. 2 team in the Class A state tournament.


Maddy Hucky: 131 kills, 22 blocks, 45 aces

Sophia Heuer: 212 kills, 26 blocks, 21 aces

Olivia Tjernagel: 170 kills, 79 blocks, 20 aces

Madi Beck: 183 kills, 19 blocks, 37 aces

Mya Chmielewski: team leader in digs, top defensive player


For the past three seasons, Section 3A has been dominated by the T-M-B Panthers. Not this time.

After missing the state tournament for three-straight years, the Vikings ended T-M-B’s reign in a five-set thriller to claim the Section 3A title.

The Vikings had a pair of juniors who can rack up the kills in a hurry. Lydia Sussner and Lizzy Gillingham have combined for more than 654 kills together, and almost 100 blocks.

Sussner also recorded her 1,000th career kill this season.


Lydia Sussner: 462 kills, 80 blocks

Lizzy Gillingham: 192 kills, 18 blocks, 18 aces

Jennifer Krog: 110 kills, 15 blocks


The Cardinals are once again back at the state tournament as they are one of the perennial powerhouses in Class A. After having their season came to a disappointing end last season,  the Cardinals were determined to get back to the Xcel Energy Center this season.

The Cardinals have been on one of the most impressive runs in Class A volleyball in recent years. They have won 13 section championships in the past 16 seasons, and have won 136 straight conference matches.

Don’t let the Cardinals 16-14 record fool you either. Out of the 14 losses this season, 11 have came against top-ranked teams in Class A, AA, and AAA.


Abby Jandro

Mary Campbell

Meagan Donahue


The Wolverines of Wadena-Deer Creek are making their 7th state tournament appearance in school history. The Wolverines have one state title, which came in 2010.

The Wolverines come into the Class A state tournament with a 25-6 record, and are the Section 6A champions. They defeated Underwood in the section title game 3-1.

Coming as the No. 4 seed in the state tournament, the Wolverines will be looking for their first state title since 2010.


The Ada/Borup/NCW Cougars are also back at the state tournament after a mini drought. The Cougars are back for a ninth time in school history, and the first since 2015.

The Cougars came out of Section 8A, where they knocked off Lake of the Woods in three-straight sets.

Sophomore Kora Kritberger leads the charge for the Cougars. She’s closing in on 400 kills for the season, and leads the team in aces with 31.


Kora Kritzberger: 369 kills, 31 aces, 100 blocks

Mariah McKeeveer:196 kills, 29 aces, 28 blocks

Bailey Brommenshenkel: 160 kills, 43 blocks


The New Life Academy Eagles may be young, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t good. With just one senior getting major playing time this season, the Eagles have relied on their young talent all season long.

Sophomore Ellie Wiertsema leads the team in both kills and digs this season. The Eagles also have 8th-grader  Makenzie Roettger, who has 128 kills on the season.

The Eagles have played a tough non conference schedule to get ready for a state tournament run. Junior setter Bethany Breiholz also reached 1,000 career set assists this season.


Ellianna Wiertsema: 308 kills, 23 blocks, 39 aces

Kate Rogers: 227 kills, 13 blocks, 35 aces

Nadia Nelson: 167 kills, 13 blocks, 52 aces


For the third-straight year, the Cook County Vikings find themselves at the state tournament. Although the Vikings haven’t had the most success when reaching the state tournament, they feature a talented and experienced group.

The Vikings boast two players who reached career milestones this season. Meredith Sutton reached 1,000 career kills, while Raina Ryden collected her 1,000th career dig, as well.

The Vikings enter the state tournament with a record of 22-5, and feature all seniors or juniors in their starting lineup.


Meredith Sutton: 366 kills, 41 blocks, 42 aces

Alyssa Lashinski: 133 kills, 42 blocks, 49 aces

Sophie Eliasen: 63 kills, 50 blocks, 33 aces


The Tigers of Pine River-Backus are making their third state tournament appearance, and their first since 2005. In the Section 5A title game, the Tigers knocked off Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa 3-1 to get back to the state tournament.

The Tigers have four players with 100 or more kills this season, but don’t go very deep into the bench. Alyssa Semmier leads the team in kills and blocks, while Bailey Wynn leads the team in aces.


Alyssa Semmier: 386 kills, 109 blocks, 2 aces

Bailey Wynn: 297 kills, 74 blocks, 37 aces

Gabby Rainwater: 195 kills, 37 blocks, 24 aces


Follow Kip Kovar on Twitter to stay updated all tournament long.

Twitter: @Kovar_HJSports

OVER THE HUMP: Boelke, Noennig lead Crusaders to Section 4A title

ST. CLOUD – After three-straight losses in the Section 4A title game, the Mayer Lutheran football team finally broke through for their fist section title since 2012. The Crusaders left no doubt as they came out ready to play, cruising to a 28-0 victory against Upsala/Swanville to capture the section title they’ve been chasing for so long.

“It feels amazing,” senior Kenson Boelke said about finally getting over the hump. “We’ve been in the section championship three years in a row. Lost it the last two years to Minneapolis North, and now we come out and pitch a shutout to get to state. It just feels amazing.”

“(Minneapolis) North has been in the way and we just didn’t have the speed to keep up with them,” Mayer Lutheran coach Dean Aurich said. “We knew today that if we played our game, we had a chance at this thing, and they did really well.”

Boelke, who was in the crowd at St. Cloud State University in 2012 when the Crusaders captured their last section title, was a big factor in this win for the Crusaders. Not only did Boelke help the defense pitch a shutout, he was a big-time threat through the air as well, finishing with three catches for 66 yards and two touchdowns.

“It feels amazing to finally make it to state,” Boelke said. “I watched it here when they made it in 2012. I’ve always wanted to do that. So to do it here, on this field, it just makes it that much more special.”

Boelke and quarterback Baden Noennig got the scoring started in a hurry for Mayer Lutheran. After Kaleb Winter recovered a fumble, Noennig found Boelke for a 4-yard touchdown pass, giving Mayer Lutheran a 7-0 lead. That was just the beginning for Noennig and Boelke.

On the second drive of the game for the Patriots, Branden Carlson forced another turnover as he intercepted a pass, and the Crusaders were looking to extend their lead after their second forced turnover.

Senior Branden Carlson makes his way upfield after intercepting pass in the second quarter of the Section 4A title game.

Senior Branden Carlson makes his way upfield after intercepting pass in the second quarter of the Section 4A title game.

“That’s what we talked about in the locker room,” Aurich said. “These guys are good enough to play with us, and if we let them have anything, they’re going to start playing harder. That turnover was huge. Defensively, we were outstanding the way we stopped them this game.”

Facing a 3rd and 9 after the interception, it was Noennig and Boelke hooking up for 29 yards, setting Mayer Lutheran up with a first and goal.

“Teams expect us to run a lot because we have such strong running backs with Matt and Branden,” Noennig said. “When we need to pass, we can get it done. Kenson’s great. Brock and all our receivers can catch. They just get the job done.”

Matt Menth capped off the drive for Mayer Lutheran with a 2-yard touchdown run, and just like that, the Crusaders held a 14-0 lead in the first quarter.

With the Patriots fighting to get back into the game, it was the Crusaders and their defense who came up with a big stop deep in their own territory. Facing a 4th and 5 from the Mayer Lutheran 10-yard line, Boelke made his presence known once again with a sack, forcing a turnover on downs as the Crusaders took a 14-0 lead into the locker room at the half.

Matthew Menth powers into the end zone to give Mayer Lutheran a 14-0 lead in the second quarter.

Matthew Menth powers into the end zone to give Mayer Lutheran a 14-0 lead in the second quarter.

In the second half, the Crusaders came out firing once again. On the fifth play of their first drive, Noennig and Boelke hooked up for their second touchdown of the day. This time it was a 33-yard touchdown connection, extending the lead to 21-0.

“We seem to know what we’re doing,” Boelke said. “It could be a family thing. We’re cousins, so you never know. That could be something. Baden knows when to find me when I’m open.”

Noennig would add another touchdown pass in the fourth quarter to seal the win as he hit senior Brock Hoese for a 34-yard touchdown pass, putting the game away and sending the Crusaders to state tournament.

“We have such a great defense and offense,” Noennig said. “Our coaches just give us such great plays, and our seniors lead us. We just got a great team.”

It was a sigh of relief for the Mayer Lutheran seniors to finally break through at Husky Stadium, a place that has had a lot of heartbreak over the past few seasons.

“It’s just great to play with them,” Noennig said about how happy he was to see his seniors break through in a section title game. “I love those seniors. They’re such great guys and they lead us so well. I’m excited, too. First time going to state for me. I’m really excited. I hope we get Blooming Prairie again. We lost to them by one point. I want to get them again. If we play Goodhue, it should be a good game.”

It wasn’t all good news for the Crusaders, though. On Zander Flucas’ first carry of the game, he was rolled up on and broke his ankle and will miss the rest of the season. Despite losing a big part of their offense and defense, the Crusaders rallied around themselves and stayed focused.

“It just shows that no matter what happens, we can always comeback and win,” Noennig said. “I thought after he got hurt, our team came out and played harder. We won that one for Flucas.”

With Flucas out, Carlson and Menth were forced to carry the load even more for the running game. Although they each got more carries than their usual workload, Aurich knows he has two capable guys of leading the way in the running game.

“We know they’re good and solid,” Aurich said about Menth and Carlson. “We know they can run the ball and catch the ball. We just don’t have that one, two, three punch anymore without him. Whenever Flucas is on the field, they always have to identify him. We’re going to have to scheme a little bit better now because we can no longer use him as a decoy or running right through that seam that we like to do. It’ll be a challenge, but these guys have really been a solid group.”

Mayer Lutheran will meet Goodhue in the Class A State Quarterfinals Saturday, Nov. 11 at 3 p.m. at Shakopee High School. Goodhue, is the top-ranked team in the final Class A poll, and defeated Blooming Prairie 19-14 in the Section 1A title game.

Follow Kip Kovar on Twitter: @Kovar_HJSports 









BACK FOR MORE: Wandersee, Crusaders headed back to state tournament to defend Class A title

ST. PETER – It was a long time coming for the Mayer Lutheran volleyball team. After cruising through the regular season in dominant fashion, the top-ranked Crusaders are headed back to the Xcel Energy Center to defend their state title after capping off a dominant playoff run with a 3-0 (25-18, 25-13, 25-6) sweep against Waterville-Eylsian-Morristown in the Section 2A title game Saturday night at Gustavus Adolphus College.

“It’s crazy,” senior Lauren Wandersee said. “It’s been a crazy season. This team is just so awesome. We’ve been through a lot, and it’s just great to see an outcome like this today.”

The Crusaders celebrate after securing a spot in the Class A state tournament for the 13th time in school history, and the 5th time since 2010.

The Crusaders celebrate after securing a spot in the Class A state tournament for the 13th time in school history, and the 5th time since 2010.

After dominating their competition in their first three section matches, the Crusaders found themselves in an unfamiliar position in the early going against the Buccaneers. W-E-M came out firing out of the gate in set one, grabbing a 6-1 lead to kick off the match. With a slow start to begin the match, the depth and experience for Mayer Lutheran showed big time as they rallied back to close the gap.

“Just the experience of this group was huge,” Mayer Lutheran coach Joelle Grimsley said. “They knew what they had to do. Being resilient there at the beginning was so important. W-E-M was doing what they wanted to do. Everything was working right for them. It was a little bit scary. Not going to lie.”

The Crusaders closed the gap to 8-7 on a kill from Maddy Hucky, but once again, the Buccaneers found a way to pull away once again. After three straight errors by Mayer Lutheran and a block, W-E-M found themselves with a 15-10 lead and feeling good about themselves. Despite being frustrated with not much going for the Crusaders, they knew what it takes to rally back, and their seniors showed it off down the stretch.

“The experienced really helped,” Wandersee said. “It really calmed our nerves. All the seniors and juniors, we just know what to do. It was really helpful to calm our nerves and just play hard.”

With her team struggling set one, senior Lauren Wandersee rallied her team with her serving as Mayer Lutheran clinched their second-straight Section 2A title with a 3-0 sweep of W-E-M Saturday night.

With her team struggling set one, senior Lauren Wandersee rallied her team with her serving as Mayer Lutheran clinched their second-straight Section 2A title with a 3-0 sweep of W-E-M Saturday night.

With the Crusaders trailing, Wandersee rallied her team with her serving and defensive play. Wandersee led the Crusaders on a big rally with a pair of aces, and a kill from Hucky tied the set at 17.

“I just kept serving hard,” Wandersee said. “I had to think of my team first, and just do my best. I just kept telling myself to do my best no matter what I did. No matter what happened at the end of this game, I can say I played hard.”

After rallying from a slow start, senior Madi Beck took over down the stretch. Beck had four kills, leading Mayer Lutheran on an 8-1 run to close out the set and steal one away from W-E-M.

“I can’t wait to watch it because you hear all these things and you’re like, she did?,” Grimsley said about Wandersee leading the comeback. “I know she got it and we tied it up. She’s been serving really strong. She’s got a great float. She’s doing really well for us.”

In set two, the Crusaders kept things rolling. After jumping out to an 8-2 lead, everything that wasn’t working in the beginning of set one was now working as the Crusaders showed why they are the top-ranked team in Class A.

“I think we have a lot players at positions who can fire away,” Wandersee said. “We have a lot of teammates that can just pick it up whenever someone is down. It’s really cool to see everyone work together. If someone’s not having a big game, we all just pick each other up. It’s really cool to see us all work together no matter comes our way.”

“We’re all really close with each other,” senior Mya Chmielewski said. “We’ve just gotten closer as the year has gone on. We’re hoping to go far again.”

Up 2-0 after the first two sets, the Crusaders went for the kill in set three. After starting the set on a 9-0 run, the Crusaders played one of their most dominant sets all season to cap of their second-straight Section 2A title.

“It was super fun,” Grimsley said about everything clicking in the third set. “They started smiling on the bench and I was like, not yet. Not yet. They started smiling though. They could feel it. They’ve been there before, so they know what that feeling is. It’s fun to watch more than just one person like we’ve been able to all season.”

Senior Madi Beck shares a hug with her father Jason Beck are getting her Section 2A championship medal. Jason is an assistant coach for the Crusaders this season.

Senior Madi Beck shares a hug with her father Jason Beck are getting her Section 2A championship medal. Jason is an assistant coach for the Crusaders this season.

“Some of us have been playing together since grade school,” Wandersee said. “It’s really cool to see how far we’ve come. This senior year is special too because it’s our last year.”

With their second-straight section title wrapped up, Mayer Lutheran will all in likely be the top-seed in the Class A State Tournament for the second-straight year. Just because the Crusaders are back at the state tournament, doesn’t mean they’re satisfied. There’s still plenty left for the Crusaders to accomplish, including repeating as state champions.

“We did it last year, so we feel like we should be able to do it again this year,” Chmielewski said. “We were ready. We knew we could do it and we got it done.”

“No, not yet,” Wandersee said on being asked if the team is satisfied with another trip to state. “We’re hungry for more.”

Mayer Lutheran is making their 13th state tournament appearance in school history, and their fifth since 2010. They will face a team that will be determined by a random draw Thursday, Nov. 9 at 1 p.m. at the Xcel Energy Center.

“Now your goal is to win this tournament,” Grimsley said. “It’s just another tournament. Get out there and win this next tournament. That’s what we talked about.”



SECTION 1A: Bethlehem Academy

SECTION 2A: Mayer Lutheran

SECTION 3A: Minneota

SECTION 4A: New Life Academy

SECTION 5A: Pine River-Backus

SECTION 6A: Wadena-Deer Creek

SECTION 7A: Cook County

SECTION 8A: Ada-Borup


Follow Kip Kovar on Twitter: @Kovar_HJSports 






STATE OF MIND: Watertown-Mayer takes state berth over Delano

Watertown-Mayer knocks off neighbor Delano Thursday night for the Section 5AA championship; Royals to taking first trip to state since 2000

Matt Kane
Sports Editor

RICHFIELD — Sitting in an hour’s worth of rush-hour traffic to play town rival Delano Thursday night was

The Watertown-Mayer bench celebrates a point in the first set of the Section 5AA final against Delano Thursday at the Academy of Holy Angels. The Royals won the match in five sets, and will play at state next week. Photo by Matt Kane

The Watertown-Mayer bench celebrates a point in the first set of the Section 5AA final against Delano Thursday at the Academy of Holy Angels. The Royals won the match in five sets, and will play at state next week.
Photo by Matt Kane

well worth it for Watertown-Mayer volleyball fans, who were grandly rewarded for their time by the Royals, who survived the Tigers in five sets to win the Section 5AA championship and the rite to play in the Class AA state tournament next weekend.

“It’s awesome. I’ve always dreamed about this, since I started high school volleyball. It was just great to accomplish this with my team. We all worked together and had fun,” said Royals freshman outside hitter Paige Thibault, who led everybody with 15 kills. “We were a little upset that we had to make the long drive, but it was definitely worth it. This is awesome.”

The trip to the Academy of Holy Angels in Richfield was well worth it, as Royals nation is now headed to the Xcel Energy Center to play in the state tournament for the first time in 17 seasons, when head coach Andrea Raser was a senior on the team in 2000.

That the match between the Royals and Tigers was so tightly contested and went to five sets came as a surprise to nobody.

Watertown-Mayer coach Andrea Raser sees a lot of similarities in the team she played on at state and the one she will coach at state.

“That was a team like this one. We didn’t care who we were playing, we just played for each other and wanted it more for our teammates and ourselves,” the coach explained. “That’s why we were successful, and that’s why these girls are successful. They truly want it just as bad for their teammates as for themselves.

“It’s good to be a part of it again.”

The Royals plan on being more than just a part of the state tournament once they take the court Thursday, Nov. 9.

“No, no, absolutely not,” the coach answered when asked if her team is just happy to be at state. “They are competitive enough that now we need to prepare for the next step. Each step at a time. Conference champs, section champs, and we are going to go for it. We have nothing to lose. Nobody sees us coming. We are on nobody’s radar, and that is to our advantage.”

Watertown-Mayer should be on the radar of opposing teams, as they enter the state tournament with a 22-7 record.

That 22nd win was the section-championship win over Delano, but, early on, it appeared the Tigers (17-13) might be on the fast track to the state tournament.

On the court, the fifth set greatly contrasted the first.

The Royals looked as if they were waking up from a nap at the start, dropping the first set 25-15 to a highly-energized Tiger team that had plenty of vocal support from a Hawaii-themed student section. Watertown-Mayer found some energy in the middle three sets, and completely dominated the fifth set 15-6 to put the Tigers away.

“Pride,” said Raser of her initial reaction when the ball hit the floor on the final point. “I am proud of how hard the girls have worked to get here.”

In between the first and fifth sets, Watertown-Mayer tied the match score at 1-1 with a 25-21 win in the second set, and took a 2-1 lead with a 25-23 win in set three.

Facing elimination, Delano stayed alive and forced the do-or-die fifth set with a 25-20 in the fourth.

“We anticipated it because we played Delano before and we knew they were a really good team,” Thibault said of the fifth set. “We are kind of evenly-matched.”

Coming back after a forgetful first set and after Delano won the fourth set showed Raser a lot about her team.

“There was a gut-check. They were nervous, but, deep down, they knew this was meant to be for them,” she said. “They showed me they have guts and resiliency and heart and fire. Everything you know is in them, they let it out tonight.”

All that fire and resiliency completely overtook the Tigers, who were hoping to ride the wave of the fourth-set win into the fifth.

“Going from the fourth set, I thought we had the momentum but we had to keep rowing with it,” said Delano coach Becca Rue, who was looking for a sixth state appearance in her 11 seasons with the Tigers. “It didn’t happen. Sometimes, that’s the way it goes with high school sports.”

The Royals took a 4-1 lead in the fifth set before the Tigers knew what hit them, and there was no catching up for Delano.

Delano's Amy Lundquist (3) and Grace Popp hit the floor in tears just after the ball hit the floor to end the Tigers' season Thursday at the Section 5AA final against Watertown-Mayer. Photo by Matt Kane

Delano’s Amy Lundquist (3) and Grace Popp hit the floor in tears just after the ball hit the floor to end the Tigers’ season Thursday at the Section 5AA final against Watertown-Mayer.
Photo by Matt Kane

“We tried to stay up and have a good attitude during the whole thing, and I think we did, but it was just kind of the domino effect (in the fifth set),” said Delano senior Amy Lundquist, who finished with a team-best 12 kills, which came on 39 spike attempts.

The fifth set, which is played to 15 points instead of 25 like the first four, can be tough to play, according to Rue.

“You work your tails off for the first four and then going to 15 is hard. If you get down, it’s hard to come back, you have to call early timeouts,” the coach said. “I just think they kind of had the momentum swing and we couldn’t get it back.”

Rue’s team entered the section final playing its best volleyball of the season. The Tigers were much-improved since their regular-season meeting with the Royals.

During the regular season, Watertown-Mayer defeated Delano in four sets Sept. 11 at the Tiger Activity Center in Delano.

“They changed a lot,” Thibault said of Delano. “They got more aggressive in their hitting and they were putting it in better spots and tipping a lot more. That kind of got us a few times, but we started to pick it up. We just pushed through and did what we do.”

Both coaches anticipated a five-set match.

“We knew they were a better team, and we knew they wanted revenge, and we knew it was going to go to five, and we knew it was going to be many battles in the war,” said Raser. “We were ready for it.”

Rue predicted the same.

“We knew going in it was probably going to be a battle, which is what you want in a section championship. I think it definitely turned out to be a great match for everybody who came,” she said. “It is just kind of a bummer there has to be someone that loses, and that somebody was us this time.”

On the stat sheet, junior setter Nikki McDonald finished with 38 assists for the Royals. Janessa Berrios joined Thibault in the double-digit kills column, the junior finishing with 14. And Thibault (12), McDonald (11), Kylie Hoese (11) and Ellie Ernhardt (10) all dug in double digits.

For Delano, junior setter Brynn Heinonen finished with 36 assists. Grace Popp had 10 kills. Kenzie Cayler and Mya Johnson both finished with 20 digs.

The serve and serve-receive games from both teams were not at their best.

Delano gave away 11 free points on service errors and hit 10 aces against the Royals. Watertown-Mayer committed 13 service errors and connected for 11 aces against the Tigers.

The Royals used a faulty service receive game from the Tigers to completely turn around the second set.

In that second set, with Delano leading 21-19, Watertown-Mayer’s Vanessa Schroeder served the final seven points to give the Royals the win. The Tigers committed errors  on four-of-five serves at one point in that stretch.