OWATONNA—In what has become a recurring theme over the course of recent matches, the Owatonna volleyball team once again captured the first set Tuesday, only to lose the match, as Faribault grabbed a road victory over the Huskies, 17-25, 25-22, 25-13, 25-19.
A lack of “mental toughness” is to blame for the blown leads this season, and players know it, as that was the topic of discussion in the locker room following Tuesday’s loss, said Whitney Ordal, Owatonna’s head coach. In fact, Huskies vowed to improve their mental fortitude in the remaining days of this season.
“We win the first set, and then we go back to what is easy,” Ordal said. The Huskies think “other teams will rollover when they lose the first set,” but when they refuse to capitulate, Owatonna doesn’t have an answer.
In Tuesday’s Big Nine tilt, the Huskies won the opening set behind excellent team defense and serving, but during the following four sets, “we missed a lot of serves, and we really stood up on defense instead of staying low,” she said. “It’s like we forgot the scouting report after the first set.”
Kaitlyn Madole staked the Huskies to the early lead, as three-consecutive aces by the junior provided the home side with a 6-2 advantage, and then more adroit serving—this time from Bailey Manderfeld—pushed the margin to 9-3. A perfect read and shot by Emily Hagen stretched the margin to 13-7, another winner by the sophomore made it 15-7, and her block won a third point to make it 16-8. Alyvia Johnson then took over, as her smash extended the score to 18-12, another kill made it 20-12, and her ace closed out the set.
In the second set, a clever play by Faribault’s Ellie Knutson provided the Falcons with an 11-5 cushion, and it was 16-12 after an ace from Faribault’s Payton Evenstad, but Owatonna clawed back to 16-15 on Johnson’s kill. Superb hustle from Owatonna defensively during an extended rally helped the Huskies knot the set at 18, but the Falcons claimed a 21-20 lead on back-to-back aces by Payton Ross, and they took the set when a serve attempt by Owatonna’s Haylee Mullenbach drifted long.
Mullenbach, Owatonna’s libero, did lead the Huskies in digs with seven Thursday, several of which necessitated her sacrificing her body to hit the floor with full extension, but that maximum effort wasn’t a surprise to her coach.
Mullenbach “doesn’t like to lose, and she has a lot of drive for the game,” Ordal said. “She has really stepped into her role, you can really hear her voice out there, and she does a lot of the little things (right).”
Faribault jumped to a 9-4 lead in the third set and never looked back, boat-racing the Huskies, 25-13, but the fourth set was 4-4 early until a spurt by the Falcons put them ahead, 10-5. Owatonna didn’t acquiesce, however, with Madole acting as the catalyst; her spike cut the lead to 15-12, and another kill narrowed the margin to 16-14.
Faribault was too much, however, as a kill by Evenstad pushed the lead to 23-19, and then McKayla Armbruster’s sixth kill of the night ended the match. Evenstad led the Falcons in kills Tuesday, with 14.
Johnson had 13 kills and six digs for Owatonna, while Madole added eight kills and four aces. Anna Vetsch pitched in with 25 assists, and Manderfeld chipped in with seven assists.
Johnson and Madole are “not just great volleyball players, but great leaders,” Ordal said. “Their composure and leadership has grown tremendously in two months.”
The Huskies, who fell to 5-20 overall and 1-8 in the conference with the loss, will hit the road Thursday, visiting Winona for a 7 p.m. match.
Despite the dismal record, “we are getting there,” Ordal said. This year’s squad has no seniors, so all players have the potential to return next season, and several Huskies jumped up multiple levels to play varsity this season.