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Marshall Tiger 'aura' is coming to town

WORTHINGTON — It’s “Marshall Week” for the Worthington Trojans.

Tonight, the WHS volleyball squad hosts the defending Class AA champion Marshall Tigers, presently ranked No. 1 in the state.

On Friday, the WHS football team hosts the defending Southwest Conference champion Tigers, who opened the 2013 campaign having gone 27-4 over their previous three seasons.

There is a palpable aura surrounding the Marshall volleyball and football squads. For the footballers, that aura may have diminished last week after the team’s 35-14 loss to Jackson County Central. But for the volleyball team, that championship presence is still as fresh as ever.

All the little things

On Wednesday afternoon, WHS head volleyball coach Jessica Hogan offered an observation about the Tigers before starting practice.

“They do all the little things very well, and they work together very well, and they don’t beat themselves. And they’re very well coached.”

Hogan’s assessment of the Marshall volleyball program has been roundly duplicated by other coaches. It’s the not-so-secret recipe for success on the volleyball floor, and the Tigers have it down pat.

Marshall’s latest match provides an example. In a 25-10, 25-9, 25-6 victory Tuesday against New Ulm, MHS advanced to 15-3 on the season recording a season’s low two service errors and five net errors.

Meanwhile, the Trojans own an 8-9 record and are experiencing all the issues that go along with .500 teams. On Saturday, they placed fourth in the St. James Tournament, beating Redwood Valley and Madelia and losing to Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial, and twice to Wabasso. On Monday, the Trojans beat Fairmont in four sets.

Hogan doesn’t like to worry what other teams are trying to do against her Trojans. She’s intent on focusing on what her own team is doing on the gym floor.

“We’ve just been trying to improve all year long,” she said Wednesday.

Improvements have been made, she said, on blocking and defense, which has been solid when the players have maintained their intensity. The serving has also improved, in that the percentages of good serves have been higher and players have gotten more of those serves into the desired locations.

Still needing improvement, Hogan testified, is “confidence — staying mentally tough the entire match, no matter what the score — and just playing our game.”

Worthington’s “game,” says Hogan, is high energy and high effort “all the time from everyone,” and scoring points when in possession of the serve and not having to rely on other teams to make mistakes.

Volleyball, of course, is a sport about teamwork. And communication.

“It takes a lot of focus because volleyball is so repetitive. You work hard to get that point, but then you’ve got to do it all over again,” said Hogan.

Focus is what the Marshall Tigers possess in abundance. That is why they are ranked No. 1 in Class AA and have garnered seven of the eight votes for that top spot.

‘What they do,

they execute well’

Both the Tigers and the Trojans are coming off disappointing losses. The Tigers saw their control of the Southwest Conference come to an end in a 35-14 loss to JCC. And the Trojans, coming off their biggest win of the season (a 42-14 triumph over Windom Area), were shut out 41-0 by nonconference opponent Annandale.

It’s been a topsy-turvy season, so far, for both teams. The Tigers lost their first two games of the season to nonconference opponents, but beat conference contender Luverne to re-establish the fact that they’re still a team to be reckoned with. The JCC loss was a definite setback.

The Trojans didn’t score a point in their first 10 quarters this year, but victories over Redwood Valley and Windom Area demonstrated their resilience.

Today, both teams stand at 2-3 overall and 2-1 in conference competition.

“They took it hard over the weekend. You could tell on Monday,” Worthington head coach Brad Grimmius assessed his players’ mental state after the Annandale loss.

But as they watched game film on Marshall, he said, attitudes changed for the better. Players were intent on soaking up information on their next opponents. Practice on Tuesday, Grimmius said, was “great.”

Said the ever-optimistic Grimmius: “The game against Annandale is going to make us better for Marshall.”

To get the job done this time, Grimmius said the Trojans are going to have to get off the ball better, re-establish the line of scrimmage and better employ their angle blocking techniques. Marshall is a bigger team than Worthington, but Grimmius says WHS matches up with their counterparts “speed-wise.”

The Tigers don’t bring the veteran leadership they have brought with them in the past, but they have learned their lessons.

“Marshall is Marshall,” said Grimmius. “They’re not the Marshall of the last few years, but what they do, they execute well.”

Doug Wolter

Doug Wolter is the Daily Globe sports editor. He served as sports reporter, then sports editor, news editor and finally managing editor at the Daily Globe for 22 years before leaving for seven years to work as night news editor at the Mankato Free Press in Mankato. Doug now lives in Worthington with his wife, Sandy. They have three children and seven grandchildren. Doug, retired after a lengthy career in fast-pitch softball, enjoys reading, strumming his acoustic guitar and hanging around his grandchildren. He also writes books on fiction. Two of his stories, "The Genuine One" and "The Old Man in Section 129" have been distributed through a national publisher.

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