MW VOLLEYBALL: Lady Jays fall in opener

WORTHINGTON -- Marie Johnson knew it wasn't going to be easy. Taking the bench for the first time as the Minnesota West head volleyball coach, Johnson's Lady Jays fell to Rochester 3-0 Wednesday night. "We did not come away with a win, but I am e...

Aaron Hagen/Daily Globe Minnesota West's Alyson Drooger connects on a kill during Wednesday's match in Worthington.

WORTHINGTON -- Marie Johnson knew it wasn't going to be easy.

Taking the bench for the first time as the Minnesota West head volleyball coach, Johnson's Lady Jays fell to Rochester 3-0 Wednesday night.

"We did not come away with a win, but I am excited and am happy with how the girls played," Johnson said following the match. "We knew this was going to be a tough game against Rochester. We're very happy that it was a home game, but Rochester has six matches under their belt already."

MW had a sluggish start, but showed improvement as the match progressed.

"I like to see the improvement," Johnson said of the 25-13, 25-14 and 25-16 loss. "In such a small period of time, they improved tremendously from the first set to the third set. We were neck-and-neck with Rochester for a good portion of the third set, which was really exciting."


Rochester improved to 7-0 this season and early on, showed their experience.

The Yellowjackets started with an 8-0 lead in Game 1.

"During that first run, with honesty, I was thinking to myself, 'When do I call a timeout?'" Johnson said. "I think calling timeouts at the right points can really help momentum change. At that point, I was thinking the girls maybe wouldn't have quite so many jitters, but as I saw the points climbing against us, it kind of hit home and there was a reality that they were a little more nervous than I expected them to be."

The Lady Jays rallied, and with a kill by Kristina Skorepa (two kills), pulled within eight points.

However, RCTC's Mikayla Valvick answered with a kill and the Yellowjackets quickly built the lead to 10 points.

MW struggled serving in Game 1, committing eight errors as RCTC went on to the 25-13 win.

"That was one thing we talked about in between every single set," Johnson said. "Serving is the only part of the game that you have 100 percent control of. At that point, I told the girls, 'You're just working on getting it in. I need you to get your serves in and that's what I need you to focus on.' The third set, from what I kept tally of, was better than the first two. They just have to take more time behind the line. It's definitely one thing we're going to hit hard at practice."

Tiffany Harberts had a kill early in Game 2 for MW, but RCTC again jumped out to a quick lead.


One of Alyson Drooger's six blocks later pulled the Lady Jays within three, 8-5, but RCTC answered with a run to lead 17-10.

Back-to-back-kills by Abbie Fey pushed the lead to 11 as the Yellowjackets took Game 2, 25-14.

Game 3 was a different story.

As the Lady Jays built a little confidence and momentum, the two teams battled hard.

RCTC had a 7-1 lead early on, but MW would find a spark.

Drooger had a block and Katherine Kazemba (16 digs) had two kills as the Lady Jays were quickly back into the game.

"In the third game, Katherine Kazemba absolutely came alive," Johnson said. "She came out of nowhere. Her hitting, her covering, her digs, she was all over the court. I knew she had it in her, she's a very versatile player, but I was ecstatic to see it come out in the third set."

Kazemba then had an ace block, tying the game at 9-all.


However, RCTC answered with a 7-2 run, taking a 16-11 lead -- forcing a MW timeout.

Despite pulling within five points late, MW fell in the third set, 25-16.

While it wasn't the way Johnson wanted to start her coaching career, her team fought to the final point.

"When I was playing here, it was instilled in us that you play until the whistle is blown," the coach said. "If it's questionable whether the whistle was blown or not, you keep going. You have to be scrappy, especially with a team like Rochester, they are going to put it everywhere."

Katie Hadler was a perfect 12-for-12 serving for MW, while Mechaela Wolff had 19 set assists. Libero Sarah Suby had five digs and 21 serve receives.

As the Lady Jays take to the road on Friday at Anoka-Ramsey, the solid third game gives them something to build on.

"In the first game, I think we had a lot of jitters," Johnson said. "But in the third, they really came alive and I'm really happy with the third one. The girls showed what they have. There's always room for improvement, but they were excited and they started playing as a team."


Aaron Hagen/Daily Globe Minnesota West's Katherine Kazemba hits past a Rochester defender during Wednesday night's volleyball match in Worthington.

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