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PREP VOLLEYBALL: Windom defeats New Ulm in four

Brian Korthals/Daily Globe Windom's Hali Tasler (9) spikes the ball over New Ulm's Amber Gasner (5) and Jill Gareis (6) during Tuesday night action in Windom.1 / 3
Brian Korthals/Daily Globe Eagle senior Abby Hayenga prepares to serve during Thursday night's match in Windom.2 / 3
Brian Korthals/Daily Globe3 / 3

WINDOM -- Displaying remarkable resiliency, along with a diversified hitting attack, the scrappy-playing Windom Eagles earned a hard-fought 3-1 high school volleyball tournament victory Tuesday night -- on their home court -- over a tall and and talented New Ulm squad, which won 18 matches this season.

In a Section 3AA South semifinal match-up between a pair of Eagles, who both could put aggressive swings on the ball -- and do an incredible job of digging up hard spikes hammered at them by their opponent -- it was the blue and gold home team which prevailed in a four-set thriller.

Game scores were 25-20, 22-25, 25-13 and 25-22.

The victory advances second-seeded Windom (21-7-1) to Thursday evening's South championship match against the top-seeded Jackson County Central Huskies, who defeated Worthington in a close three-game sweep at Jackson Tuesday night.

The first serve for the title match is scheduled to be launched at 7 p.m. (Thursday) at a site to be determined.

Third-seeded New Ulm, which won Game 2 Tuesday after vaulting to a quick 6-0 lead and also played very well through an intense and closely-played Game 4, finishes its season with an 18-10 overall record.

"Windom served well, spiked hard and did great job of blocking, covering and digging," summed up New Ulm head coach Chris Otto. "They are a very scrappy team and play tremendous defense."

Indeed, Windom had two players -- juniors Shelby Mattson and Holly Larson -- each record five solo blocks for the Eagles, while a trio of players in the blue and gold uniforms came up with double-digit dig totals.

"Our kids are relentless," praised long-time Windom head coach Ron Wenforff. "We really got after a lot of balls, which were hit pretty hard at us. No question about it, our defense allows us to keep the ball in play and get our offense set up."

Leading the Windom defensive dig chart were sophomore outside hitter Kelsey Hanefield, freshman libero Jasmine Carlson and junior outside hitter Hali Tasler with 18, 15 and 14 digs, respectively.

"The girls covered the court so well," declared Wendorff. "We dug up a lot of balls off the block, and both Shelby and Holly had some big blocks at key times which helped us."

Offensively, the winning Eagles had three girls combine for a perfect 64-of-64 night at the serving line, as the trio of Tasler (29-of-29, 18 points, three aces), senior setter Abby Hayenga (20-of-20, 12 points, one ace) and Hanefeld (15-of-15, seven points) never missed a serve the entire match.

"Our serving was good and so was our serve receive, which allowed us to get in system more often than not," exclaimed Wendorff, who was pleased with his total team effort Tuesday. "Then with both Abby and Shelby doing a nice job of setting, we were able to attack aggressively and score consistently with few hitting errors."

Hayenga (19 set assists) and Mattson (15 set assists) distributed the ball to a variety of front-row attackers which included Tasler, Hanefeld, Larson, junior middle hitter Leah Hacker, and both Mattson and Hayenga, who can smack spikes themselves.

"Our versatility at the net helps," Wendorff said. "We really put some good swings on the ball and just did a great job of keeping after it and attacking again -- after New Ulm played back our first hit."

Windom put 90 percent of its attacks in play, having only 15 errors in 147 swings.

Tasler, who made several outstanding saves with dives to the floor, paced the well-balanced Eagles' spiking attempt as she hammered 16 kills on a 42-of-47 night at the net.

Hanefeld, who several times had repeat blasts on the same rally, finished the match with 13 timely kills on a 33-of-37 spiking performance.

Larson (20-of-24, seven kills), Mattson (18-of-20, five kills) and Hayenga (14-of-14, four kills) also were a big part of Windom's total of 45 kills on the night, spread among five players.

New Ulm, which had several players taller than anyone on Windom's roster, was led by a sparkling all-around performance from senior Anna Hildebrandt, who delivered 15 kills and had a trio of ace blocks.

Amber Gasner contributed 10 kills and two blocks for New Ulm, while libero Sydney Schuck was a perfect 17-of-17 serving, including running off a string of points during her team's victory in Game 2.

Windom closes out Game 1 on 6-2 run

Early, a scorching middle kill by Larson and an ace serve by sophomore Miki Bolin lifted Windom to a 5-3 lead. Later, an impressive long set by Mattson to Tasler for a left-side kill -- after a long rally -- kept Windom up by two, 9-7.

New Ulm countered with an impressive 7-0 run, turning an 11-8 deficit into a 15-11 lead with Gasner at the serving line and Hildebrandt attacking at the net.

A key block and a well-placed middle tip by Larson helped Windom scramble back to a 15-all tie.

Hayenga set Tasler for a left-side kill, which snapped an 18-18 tie and forced a New Ulm timeout.

After the timeout, Windom finished off Game 1 with a 6-2 run, as back-to-back kills by Tasler, an ace serve by Hayenga, a tremendous dig by Hanefeld and a booming left-side kill by Mattson clinched a five-point win for Wendorff's team.

New Ulm opened Game 2 on a 6-0 run, as the Eagles hit several spike attempts long.

A left-side kill by Tasler and a tandem block by Mattson and Larson got Windom going, and after an ace serve by Tasler, Larson pounded a free ball at the net to the right back coffin corner, closing the gap to 6-4.

Later, after several remarkable saves by Windom, Tasler smacked a free ball to the floor and the home team was within a point at 10-9.

The score stayed close through several exchanges, as Tasler, Mattson, Larson, Carlson and Hanefeld all made big plays for Windom during a span, which ended with a left-side kill by Hanefield knotting the score at 18-all.

Windom, however, missed several serves and also hit a couple of spikes short, as New Ulm gradually pulled away for a 25-22 win in Game 2, highlighted by an ace serve from Bree Friedman for point No. 24.

"We did not start out very sharp in Game 2," Wendorff said. "But, we came back well and almost pulled it out. Missing a few serves late hurt us, as we gave them three points, which was the difference.

Windom plays well in Games 3 and 4

With the match tied at a game apiece, Windom utilized exceptional hustle and teamwork to take control in Game 3.

Starting with a deep ace serve by Carlson and a tip kill by Hayenga, Windom took a quick 2-0 lead.

Hanefeld powered a left-siide kill off a block to extend Windom's lead to 7-2 and a tandem block by Hayenga and Hacker stopped a New Ulm rally and kept the home-team Eagles ahead by a 10-6 score.

A left-side kill by Tasler and a solo middle block by Mattson helped increase the lead to 13-8 and then -- after stellar saves by Hanefield, Tasler and Carlson on the same play -- another Mattson block gave Windom a six-point advantage.

Wendorff's team continued to look sharp through the rest of Game 3, opening up leads of 16-10 and 20-12 with kills by Tasler and Hanefield highlighting the game-clinching surge.

A middle kill by Larson -- off the block -- was followed by a Mattson-Larson tandem block and a back set from Hayenga to Mattson for a right-side kill, which put Windom at game point. A New Ulm spike out of bounds gave Windom its convincing 12-point win in Game 3.

Game 4 was much more competitive, as New Ulm responded to every Windom rally.

Windom did claim an early 4-2 lead, but the visitors fought back with a 5-2 run and held a slim 7-6 edge before Windom rallied with an impressive 7-2 burst, giving Wendorff's squad a 14-9 advantage.

An ace serve by Carlson and a terrific one-arm save -- over the net for a kill -- by Hanefeld were among Windom's highlights during that span.

Later, after New Ulm rallied again, Hayenga smashed a powerful right-side kill to floor, which was made possible by the diving duo of Carlson (30 serve receptions, no aces) and Tasler who both went to the floor in the pursuit of New Ulm tip.

Energized by those kinds of efforts, Windom held off New Ulm and maintained leads of 17-13 and 19-16 before the visitors made one last charge, knotting the score at 19-all.

Windom, however, won a long rally when a New Ulm spike hit the net and then the hosts capped off the set and match by scoring five of the next eight points, earning advancement to the finals.

A stuff at the net by Hacker and a middle tip by Hayenga were among Windom's key plays during that final run, which ended with a missed serve by New Ulm after a quick timeout by Wendorff with the score at 24-22.

"Sometimes those work out and sometimes they don't," Wendorff said about the late timeout. "I was just so happy with our whole team. We used Sami Peterson, a junior setter, quite a bit tonight and she did a nice job both with serving and setting. Then we put Hannah Kloos, a sophomore defensive specialist, in to serve late in Game 4 and she came through very nicely. I am so proud of how those two girls contributed in clutch situations. It was a complete team effort by Windom in this match."