Trojans upset Willmar in 5-set Section 2AAA volleyball quarterfinal
A tough and determined Worthington Trojans high school volleyball team took on second-seeded Willmar in Willmar on Wednesday, winning in an inspired performance
BY JOE BROWN
West Central Tribune
WILLMAR — When it came to section play, Worthington had been accustomed to being a one-and-done squad. Heading into Wednesday’s Section 2AAA quarterfinal volleyball match with Willmar, the Trojans hadn’t won a playoff game since 2016.
“For the past how-many years, we’d always been at the bottom,” said Worthington head coach Courtney Opdahl. “We’d usually go to Marshall and we’d have no confidence.”
But this time felt different. Sure, the Trojans were a seven seed facing the two seed and the No. 2-ranked team in AAA. But they went 17-11 in the regular season and they had confidence going into the Big Red Gym.
“We believed we could play with (Willmar) and ultimately beat them,” Opdahl said.
And that’s what Worthington did.
Springing out to a 2-0 lead, the Trojans held on through a Cardinal comeback to get the five-set victory, 29-27, 25-22, 18-25, 16-25, 15-9.
“Worthington just wanted it more,” said Willmar head coach Leah Brogdon. “They hit balls harder, they found what was open for them and it worked. Props to them.”
With the victory, the Trojans go back on the road to face No. 3 seed St. Peter at 7 p.m. Friday. The Saints beat No. 6 New Ulm in four sets, 25-16, 24-26, 26-24, 25-17.
Willmar and Worthington battled a tough first set, needing extra time to declare a winner. Ultimately, the Trojans took the 1-0 lead after a tip from Madi Beckmann and a block.
Another tight one went Worthington’s way in the second set. Leading 23-22, the Trojans closed it out after a Tarren Spartz kill and a double hit called on the Cardinals.
“It was super intense; I didn’t expect coming out to win the first two,” said Spartz, a senior outside hitter. She finished with 15 kills and 17 digs, both team highs. “Usually we wake up late in the game and it was such a nice feeling to wake up early and get it done.”
Instead of full-on attacking Willmar, Worthington was effective on offense by tipping the ball and finding soft holes in the middle of the court.
“I don’t think we were reading (the attacks) early enough and that had a lot to do with nerves,” Brogdon said. “We were expecting their team to crush it and not expecting them to be smart enough to mix it up. I think that took us by surprise; they kept tipping and found their spots.”
Down 2-0 and on the ropes, the early match smiles were replaced with scowls. Led by their 6-foot-4 outside hitter and future Minnesota Golden Gopher Sydney Schnichels, the Cardinals played mad. And it worked as they dominated sets three and four to tie the match.
“We talked about it in the huddle that if you need to get (mad) to get into this game and want it, then get (mad),” said Schnichels. “I personally play better when I’m (mad). Get (mad), not at your teammates, but you get (mad) like I want to win, let’s go.”
Schnichels had a game-high 24 kills along with seven ace serves and 10 digs.
“That was a big change in our mentality and our emotions,” Schnichels added.
With Ellery DeBoer dishing out 45 set assists, the offense opened up for the Cardinals. Gretchen Volk tallied 10 kills, followed by eight from Brielle Ogdahl.
“I kind of felt that in the third set that Sydney crushed a ball and I’m like, OK, now we’re here and we’re settled in and we’ll take it from here,” Brogdon said. “We were going after balls we hadn’t gone after in a while.”
Brogdon added, “I can’t say we did anything bad; it just didn’t go our way tonight.”
Tied 4-4 in the fifth set, Worthington scored three straight points. They kept the lead for the rest of the decisive set.
“Our back row was talking to our front row about what shots were open and that helped,” Spartz said. “We picked it up in the fifth.”
Spartz got her final kill of the night to make it 14-9. Trying to extend the match, a Schnichels swing went into the net, clinching the Worthington upset.
Willmar closes out the season with a 24-4 record.
“They were a good team; they had a lot of good players and did a lot of smart things,” Schnichels said. “They just kind of outplayed us, honestly. We tried our best and fought back. They deserved it; they played hard and they’re a good team.”
Ellie Weg finished with 13 kills and four blocks for Worthington, and Addison Gerber had 38 set assists.
In other 2AAA quarterfinal matches, No. 4 Mankato West knocked off No. 5 Hutchinson 27-25, 25-23, 26-24; and No. 1 Marshall defeated No. 8 Mankato East 25-6, 25-12, 25-12.
Semifinals are Friday at high seed. The championship is 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 3 at the high seed.