PREP VOLLEYBALL: Knights eliminate Wildcats in Section 3AMARSHALL — Rattling off eight straight points to begin the fifth and decisive game, fifth-seeded Russell-Tyler-Ruthton held off a late rally by third-seeded Southwestern United to earn a thrilling 3-2 victory in the Section 3A South Division Volleyball Tournament championship match Thursday at Southwest Minnesota State University’s R/A Facility.
By: Lucas Knutson, Worthington Daily Globe
MARSHALL — Rattling off eight straight points to begin the fifth and decisive game, fifth-seeded Russell-Tyler-Ruthton held off a late rally by third-seeded Southwestern United to earn a thrilling 3-2 victory in the Section 3A South Division Volleyball Tournament championship match Thursday at Southwest Minnesota State University’s R/A Facility.
The Knights won as game scores included 27-29, 25-19, 25-20, 23-25 and 15-10 in the tightly-contested, back-and-forth affair. R-T-R improved to 7-1 in five-set matches this season.
The win was also R-T-R’s third one over a higher-seeded squad in the sub-section tournament. The Knights (20-12) knocked off fourth-seeded Tracy-Milroy-Balaton and top-seeded Southwest Christian earlier to win the South Division title.
R-T-R advanced to play North Division champion Minneota, which claimed a three-game sweep over Dawson-Boyd Thursday, in the Section 3A final at 6 p.m. Saturday in Marshall. SWU finished its season at 24-9.
“I’m really proud of our girls, as we had a great year and an exciting playoff run,” SWU head coach Christine Malm said after the match. “We didn’t play well enough to win tonight, but give credit to R-T-R. We had a hard time scoring points consistently and made too many mistakes, which they took advantage of.”
The Wildcats captured exciting two-point wins in both Games 1 and 4, but a quick 8-0 hole to begin Game 5 was too much for SWU to overcome in the end.
“SWU is a good team with a lot of height up on the front row,” R-T-R head coach T.J. Williams said. “We had to make some adjustments along the way with the way we attacked, and we just seemed to get stronger as the match progressed. Overall, we played a very smart volleyball match all night long and came out with a nice win.”
R-T-R’s Janel Wichern smacked a match-high 20 kills, leading the Knights to crucial back-to-back wins in Games 2 and 3. Leslie Willert (10 kills, 19 digs and four blocks) also delivered lots of big plays at the net for R-T-R.
SWU’s Courtney Place (22 digs, eight blocks) hammered a team-leading 21 kills and helped the Wildcats secure a 29-27 win in the opener. SWU trailed 20-12 in the first game, but answered with a 12-4 burst to tie the score at 24 and force the game into extra points.
R-T-R built that eight-point cushion behind kills from Wichern (21 digs) and Justine Possail, along with a strong service run by Allison Pochardt (15 digs, seven set assists), breaking from a slight 12-10 lead with an 8-2 surge.
But Place and Rachel Mathias (11 kills) combined for three kills and a pair of ace blocks to rally the Wildcats. After exchanging points following the 24-all tie, SWU eventually won by two points on an ace serve from Alyssa Hendrickson (18-for-20 serving with three aces) and an ace block by Mathias.
However, R-T-R countered and won fairly comfortably (25-19) in Game 2. A trio of early kills by Wichern made it 4-1, and the Knights led 11-6 following a tip by Destinee Strand (15 set assists, 17 digs).
R-T-R maintained the lead and was ahead 23-14 on a kill and an ace serve from Willert. The Knights withstood a brief run by SWU — which included left-side kills from Place and Mathias — to seal a six-point win on a kill from Wichern.
“I thought a big key was our defense, as we really stepped it up and kept balls alive,” Williams said. “We are a well-conditioned team and hustle to make plays, and we came up with several good saves defensively tonight.”
Game 3 was close all the way, although R-T-R led 6-2 right away on the strength of two kills and a tip from Wichern.
Three straight kills by SWU — from Hendrickson, Mathias and Kailey Wendland off of sets from Mandy Henkels (44 set assists, 19 digs and 17-for-17 serving) — tied the score at eight a bit later.
R-T-R built a 19-14 lead on a kill and an ace block from Wichern, but SWU responded with a 6-1 run to tie it at 20. Place smacked a kill and fired an ace serve, while Wendland and Hendrickson scored on a tandem block to ignite the Wildcats’ comeback.
The Knights, though, regrouped and scored the final five points to win 25-20 for a 2-1 match lead. An ace serve by Pochardt and a kill by Willert benefitted R-T-R in that 5-0 ending spurt.
SWU extended the match to a fifth game, hanging on for a 25-23 win in Game 4 after leading 24-19. Place and Hendrickson did the bulk of the scoring throughout the set for the Wildcats, while Andrea Hinkeldey (middle kill) and Autumn Hinkeldey (ace serve) also contributed.
After Place blasted a kill and placed a tip to put SWU up by five late, R-T-R scored four straight points to make it 24-23. Kills from Possail and Willert gave the Knights a chance to end the match right then and there.
But a tip by Andrea Hinkeldey off on an R-T-R serve gave the Wildcats point number 25, setting up a decisive fifth contest.
R-T-R vaulted out to an 8-0 lead in Game 5 as Strand went to the service line and knocked down back-to-back aces. Wichern had a kill and an ace block in that span, as well.
Place charted two kills and a block to pull SWU within six (10-4), but R-T-R was up 14-6 and had a match point after two more kills from Willert.
An ace serve by Hendrickson, a middle kill by Mathias and a left-side kill by Wendland highlighted a 4-0 Wildcats’ run that made it 14-10, but a big block by Willert put the brakes on that rally bid and wrapped up a 15-10 win to advance the Knights to the next round.