Nov. 7—Don't let up, don't let the ball hit the ground.
Kasson-Mantorville excelled on defense on Saturday and had enough offensive firepower to sweep past Stewartville 25-23, 25-22, 25-19 for the Section 1AAA volleyball championship on Saturday at Mayo Civic Center in a battle of state powers.
"Anytime you beat Stewartville it always feels good, it doesn't matter if it's to get to state or not," K-M coach Adam VanOort said.
The two Hiawatha Valley League rivals, ranked No. 2 and 3 in the state in Class AAA, had played a thrilling five-set match during the regular season. That made the K-M sweep in the section finals somewhat improbable.
"It feels really nice," KoMets senior Annika Larson said. "Coming in we knew they were going to play their best. I think we were all expecting it to go five (sets)."
But this time, the top-seeded and second-ranked KoMets found a way to sneak past Stewartville in three close and long sets. Defense prevailed for both teams as there were a number of long rallies, especially in the first two sets.
"The length of the rallies, if you were to add them up, I don't know if I've ever seen three sets take longer than that," VanOort said. "Just because so many balls were dug by both sides."
"Kasson played really well," Stewartville coach John Dzubay said. "I thought our defense played well, but it wasn't as good as theirs."
Whittney Deno sparked the KoMets on both offense and defense. She led the team with 16 kills and 25 digs. Libero Cate Wanous chipped in with 20 digs.
"We knew that we had to get the ball up and play our best defense to win," Deno said. "I think our key factor was just to stay confident and aggressive all the way through the match so we could play our best volleyball."
After the KoMets pulled out a close first set, Stewartville had an excellent chance to win the second set. The Tigers jumped out to a 17-10 lead before K-M battled back.
"That second set we made some errors that let them back in," Dzubay said. "We needed to close that one out. That would have helped."
Ellie Ask, who finished with 13 kills, had five kills in the final half of the second set to spark the KoMets while Larson added three.
Larson said the KoMets tried to attack down the lines more often because Stewartville had the size advantage up front.
"They put a bigger block up, but nothing changes," Larson said. "Just play your game, attack the edges and do what you can do."
Dzubay said he was a bit disappointed with the Tigers' serving in the contest. VanOort thought K-M wore the Tigers down in the closing stages of the match.
"Certainly as the match went on, we got stronger with our serving and got them out of system more," VanOort said. "They were passing really, really well in the first couple of sets so for us to win those sets was pretty impressive."
"Adam knows how to coach really well and he had his kids playing defense at a high level," Dzubay said. "That was awesome."
The two teams battled in the third set. K-M held a slim 21-19 lead but then Larson, who finished with 14 kills, had four straight kills to close out the set and the match.
"We have to stay aggressive to win the game so I'm not going to tip this ball unless it's in a different place," she said. "How we were going to win was to be aggressive."
Stewartville, which had beaten fourth-ranked Byron in the section semifinals, finishes the season 25-5.
"It feels really good," Deno said. "We knew they were one of our biggest rivals so any win against them is really good, especially when we get to go to state."
K-M is now 28-3 an will take a nine-match winning streak into the Class AAA state tournament. K-M will play in the state quarterfinals on Wednesday at either 5 or 7 p.m. at the Xcel Energy Center, depending on the seedings.
"It is a little regrettable that we have three of the top four teams in the state trying to get out of one section in our class," VanOort said. "As good as it is to win the section, it would certainly be nice to have Stewartville and Byron at state, too, because they're definitely top five in the whole state."
Kasson-Mantorville 3, Stewartville 0
No. 2 Stewartville:
No. 1 Kasson-Mantorville: Aryss McAdams 17 digs; Cate Wanous 20 digs; Annika Larson 14 kills, 3 digs; Maddie Converse 42 assists, 13 digs; Whittney Deno 16 kills, 25 digs; Ellie Ask 13 kills; Abby Distad 6 digs.
Annika Larson has 4 straight kills to close the set and match. Kasson-Mantorville beats Stewartville 25-19 in 3rd set. K-M wins match 3-0 to win Section 1AAA volleyball championship. pic.twitter.com/r1mpnF8nKd
— Guy N. Limbeck (@PBglimbeck) November 6, 2021
Ellie Ask with a kill to close the 2nd set. Kasson-Mantorville's rallies to beat Stewartville 25-22, leads match 2-0. pic.twitter.com/aKPLe6JZ91
— Guy N. Limbeck (@PBglimbeck) November 6, 2021