The Le Sueur-Henderson Giants went down fighting in just their second time in the last seven years reaching the Section 2AA volleyball finals Saturday at Mankato East.
Although the No. 2 seeded North Subsection Tigers easily won the first two sets 25-12, 25-18, the No. 2 South Subsection Giants pushed Belle Plaine to the limit in the third and deciding set 28-26.
“We didn’t settle down and play our game until midway through the second set, and you can’t do that against a team of Belle Plaine’s caliber, though I’m proud of the girls for not giving up and fighting through to the end,” first-year head coach Stacey Feser said.
The Tigers jumped to as much as a 23-7 lead in the first set, but the Giants cut it to as close as 24-12 before falling 25-12.
LS-H also fell behind in the second set by as much as 17-8 but cut it to as close as 21-15 before falling 25-18.
The third set was close all the way with Belle Plaine leading by no more than five points 21-16.The Giants tied it 23-23 on a tip kill by senior outside hitter Morgan Goettlicher and 24-24 on a kill by Goettlicher, LS-H took its first lead of the match 26-25 on a kill by senior outside hitter Lauren Gregersen. But the Tigers tied at 26 it on a kill by junior outside hitter Lauren Johnson, and won it 28-26.
Gregersen said Goettlicher, who led the Giants with 19 kills (.286), “has really been a big asset to our team this year in the front row.”
Gregersen had seven kills, coupled with 11 digs and 18 serves.
Senior Libero Callie Jo Miller led with 14 digs. Sophomore right hitter Julia More had 13, junior setter Halle Bemmels had 10, and junior defensive specialist Brianna Sippo had 6.
Belle Plaine, which also defeated the Giants 3-0 during the regular season, was “really scrappy and always on the floor,” Gregersen said. “They came out swinging. And we defended well.”
The Giants, who reached the subsection finals in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 and finished third in the state in 2009, finish the season 16-17.
“As a team, we played really well,” Gregersen said. “We struggled in the beginning, but we really stuck together as a team all the way through and never gave up. That’s kind of been our whole season. We played all though every point and never let not one go without fighting. I’m proud of this team. I’m proud of our season.
“We had a first-year coach come in, and we made history. We haven’t been this far since (2012). It was a good way to end this season.”
Gergersen said the Giants stuck together as a team in the rebuilding process.
“We stuck together as a team, and I’m really proud of everybody,” Gergersen said.
Asked about her career overall, Gregersen said, “I’m thankful that I’ve gotten to play with my seniors for the past I don’t know how many years. We really stuck together and got better from where we started.”
Gregersen is a versatile player who plays the entire match in the back row and the front row. As a complete rotation player in the six positions, she feels comfortable as a hitter, blocker and a setter and a digger, server and passer.
Belle Plaine (22-9 and ranked 10th in the state) placed third in the state in 2018.
The Giants lose just four seniors to graduation: Gregersen, Goettlicher, Miler and Hayli Flores.
“Special thanks to our seniors who led us not just statistically tonight, but steadily all season,” Feser said. “We’ll certainly miss them next year. We have a good group to build from and the team’s postseason run has sparked the program.
“It was a great season, certainly one I’ll never forget as my first year as head coach. The girls have come a long way, and it may not have ended the way we would have liked, but they accomplished a lot together and should be proud of that.”