K-M blasts its way into state semifinals

Nov. 11—ST. PAUL — On paper, it seemed a mismatch.

On the floor, that also turned out to be the case.

No. 2 seed Kasson-Mantorville, again at its defensive best and getting an overpowering kill display by Annika Larson, blasted unseeded Sauk Rapids-Rice 25-15, 25-11, 25-15 in the Class AAA state volleyball quarterfinals on Wednesday night at Xcel Energy Center.

That sets up a state semifinals match at 7 p.m. Friday with No. 3 seed New Prague.

K-M moved to 29-3 overall and won for the ninth straight time. Sauk Rapids-Rice — a rare team to have qualified for a state tournament with a losing record — slipped to 13-17.

After what KoMets coach Adam VanOort considered a predictably "tight" start by his team, with the Storm assuming a quick 5-4 lead, K-M settled into something else predictable: It was smooth operating the rest of the way.

A block by Larson had the KoMets up 13-9 and from then on the first two sets were complete domination by K-M.

"We were a little bit tight at the start, and we had to get used to the bigger space of (Xcel Energy Center)," VanOort said. "The lights are bright and the sound is (different). But once we got used to the space and the depth perception, I thought we played well."

It was Larson, a senior outside hitter, who jumped out most. She did it by jumping and smashing, so often on the receiving end of All-State senior Maddie Converse's ideal sets.

Larson finished with a team-high 11 kills. Converse led in set assists with 28.

"I think I built confidence as the match wore on," Larson said. "Confidence is a big thing. It makes you play better."

So does Converse. She too makes teammates play better.

"Maddie and I have a really good connection on the court," Larson said. "It helps to have a setter that I can trust."

Converse is equally grateful for Larson's presence. Though just 5-foot-7, Larson has springs and enough power and timing that she's led her team in kills most of the season.

"I can always rely on Annika," Converse said. "I trust her."

Just behind Larson in kills on Wednesday was teammate Ellie Ask. The 5-7 sophomore had 10 kills.

Senior Caitlynn Wanous and junior Whittney Deno led the always-dependable and scrappy KoMets' defense with 15 and 14 digs, respectively. Deno also had nine kills.

It was the second time that K-M and Sauk Rapids-Rice had met this season. The outcome has been the same both times, the KoMets sweeping in overwhelming style.

The Storm, once again, came away impressed.

"They are really quick," Sauk Rapids-Rice senior outside hitter Darci Peterson said. "They play the ball well and they put it in smart spots."

Despite the KoMets having had an easy time with the Storm the last time, VanOort insisted it had zero impact on his players' mindset this time.

They were all business, as usual.

"It's not our style to take anyone lightly," said VanOort, who has his team back at state for the first time since 2018 (there was no state tournament last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic). "We just focus on our side of the net and love the battle. It doesn't matter what the other team does or doesn't do. If we go out and play tough, relentless and poised, we are happy with the outcome no matter what."

Kasson-Mantorville 3, Sauk Rapids-Rice 0

Sauk Rapids-Rice#15#11#15


Sauk Rapids-Rice: Kieryn Hirdler 19 assists, 8 digs; Hailee Cullen 3 assists, 10 kills, 8 digs; Alexis Helmin 5 kills, 2 digs; Ava Athman 1 kill, 1 ace serve; 2 digs; Jordyn Lee 7 digs; Sophia Rothstein 3 kills; Darci Peterson 1 kill, 6 digs; Grace Urbowicz 13 digs.

Kasson-Mantorville: Aryss McAdams 4 ace serves, 8 digs; Caitlynn Wanous 1 assists, 2 ace serves, 15 digs; Annika Larson 11 kills, 4 digs, 1 block; Maddie Converse 28 assists, 2 ace serves, 7 digs; Whittney Deno 9 kills, 2 ace serves, 14 digs; Cassidy Thompson 1 kill, 3 digs, 2 blocks; Ella Babcock 1 kill, 1 block; Abby Distad 1 assist, 1 dig; Ellie Ask 10 kills, 1 dig, 1 block; Sophia Sutton 1 kill, 1 dig, 1 block.