ST. PAUL — Scouting reports, elaborate game plans and magic words of advice could all be thrown out the window as third-seeded Medford and second-seeded W-E-M prepared for their Class A state semifinal volleyball match in St. Paul on Friday.
Having squared off three times during the regular season and played a countless number matches throughout the last decade as fellow members of the Gopher Conference, the do-or-die showdown at the Xcel Energy Center was simply going to come down to one thing: The players.
“We told them going in that we can’t give you a 20-page scouting report because that’s going to go out the window as soon as the game starts,” W-E-M coach, Crystal Lamont, said. “We know a lot about them but we also know they know a lot about us. We know the tendencies of all the players. It is just being smart and taking advantage of any opportunities that are there to score. You just need to adjust to what is there as the match is going on and I thought our girls did that very well.”
Scoring the first point in each set and never allowing the Tigers to lead by more than a single point all match, the high-powered Buccaneers pulled off a 3-0 (25-20, 25-20, 25-20) victory and advance to play top-seeded Minneota on Saturday at 1 p.m. W-E-M will be looking to capture its second state title in program history, the first of which came in 2015 when the Bucs defeated Faribault Bethlehem Academy, 3-2, in the championship round.
“I think, yes, we need to worry about Minneota, but we have to worry about ourselves too,” W-E-M senior, Delaney Donahue, said. “We have to stick together as a team and we have to take it point by point and worry about making less errors and cheering on our team. Minneota is a very good defensive team and they attack the ball well. We just need to go in and make less errors than them.”
For Medford, Friday’s loss marks the end of another deep postseason run that technically isn’t finished as the Tigers — who lost in the state championship match last season — will play for the third-place medal on Saturday at 11 a.m. against Fosston, which suffered a 3-1 setback to Minneota on Friday.
Even though the Tigers’ elusive state championship will have to wait another year, head coach Missy Underdahl hopes her players are able to grasp what they have meant to a community that had never seen a girls athletics team participate in a state tournament until last season.
“I just really hope that they can walk away from here realizing the impact they have made on the community,” Underdahl said. “I mean, win or lose, our community doesn’t care. They are just so proud of these girls and these girls should be proud of everything they have accomplished in their career, and we aren’t done yet. We aren’t going to walk away from this without fighting hard for that third-place finish. Obviously, playing for first place would have been nice, but these girls have been just a blessing to be a part of their lives and their sports journey.”
Kylie Pittmann led the aggressive and well-formed W-E-M offense with 15 kills while Toryn Richards added eight kills and Delanie Donahue seven. Ellie Ready spread the wealth at setter and accounted for 32 of the team’s 35 total assists while adding 11 digs.
Avoiding Medford’s 6-foot junior middle hitter, Kinsey Cronin, at all costs, the Buccaneers attacked from the outside and stitched together enough rallies to keep the Tigers out of system and off-balance. W-E-M closed the first two sets with 5-0 bursts and to secure of pair of 25-20 victories before jumping out to an 8-2 lead in the third.
“With that run we basically just stuck together the whole time,” Richards said. “Our defense was a big key in the beginning of the third set. We never gave up on any ball that came our way and we were ready for anything that they gave us.”
Added Donahue: “I think serving was another big point because I know we had a couple aces in there and we went on a nice run.”
With the Bucs’ lead swelling to 16-8, the Tigers mustered one final gasp and went on a 12-7 rally to draw within 23-20 when Alyvia Johnson pounded a kill high on the left side.
W-E-M, though, registered the game’s final three points and officially put the match on ice.
Emma Kniefel paced the Tigers with 13 kills while Cronin and Johnson added seven and six, respectively. Kiley Nihart notched a match-high 21 digs while Morgan Langeslag finished with 29 assists and 11 digs.