The Caledonia Warriors magical run through the state volleyball tournament, the first-ever trip to state in school history, came to an end Saturday when the Warriors lost to Marshall 25-17, 15-25, 24-26 and 17-25 at the Xcel Energy Center in the class AA state championship match.
Making their 12th straight visit to the state tournament, the Tigers rode on the strong arm of all-state junior Kenzie Beekman and won three straight sets after the Warriors stormed out and won the first set 25-17. Winners of five titles, the Tigers got 22 kills and 14 digs from Beekman to win their second straight championship in Class AA. “Caledonia coach Scott Koepke said “The difference on this night was Marshall is just a great team. They are just so solid in all phases of the game if not a bit more.”
Things couldn’t have started much better for Caledonia in game one as the Warriors, seeded #2 in the tournament, jumped out to a quick 7-3 lead on a kill from Maddy Mullins, who will go down in Caledonia sports history as the player who scored the first-ever point at state for a Warrior volleyball team to make the early score 2-1 Marshall. But the Tigers came back and tied the set at 8-8 and took an 11-9 before the Warriors knotted the score at 11 all on a service ace from Lauren Rusert. Caledonia went on a 5-1 run for a 16-12 lead and Marshall called a time out. “I thought we played better than the night before. Maria had probably the most amazing attacking performance I have ever seen in a single set with seven kills. That was a treat for everyone to see and some pretty awesome stuff. Taylor set well and we passed well.” The Tigers scored twice after the break to cut the lead to 16-14, but a kill from Emma Lange put the Warriors up three at 17-14. Maria Fruechte then put down back-to-back kills for a 19-14 lead and the Warriors then scored six of the final nine points, winning set one 25-17 when Lottie Augedahl blocked a Sydney Griffin spike attempt.
The second set then turned into a near mirror image of the first, only this time Marshall took control. The Tigers doubled-up the Warriors at 10-5 on a kill from Griffin, but an ace serve from Emma Lange got Caledonia close at 12-11. Marshall rose to the challenge by scoring six straight points to take an 18-11 lead on a kill from Emma Doyle that forced the Warriors to call a time out. After the break a kill from Fruechte was blocked by Doyle and Callie Graff, and Beekman added another kill to give Marshall a 20-12 lead. Fruechte and Beekman traded kills before Marshall got two straight kills for a 23-13 lead. Another kill from Fruechte and an attack error on Griffin made the score 23-15, but Marshall got kills from Griffin and Angela Tauer to win game two 25-15.
The third set was the best of the match. Marshall scored the first four points before Caledonia stormed back and tied, then took the lead on a pair of kills from Lange and another from Augedahl that gave Caledonia an 11-9 lead. A kill from Beekman tied the set at 12-12 and back-to-back service aces from Marshall and a missed kill by Lange put the Tigers up 15-12. After a time out Caledonia scored three straight with Maddy Mullins, Fruechte and Winjum scoring but a Beekman kill put the Tigers up 16-15. The Tigers took a 19-16 lead but a Fruechte kill closed the gap to 19-18 and an ace from Griffin got the Tigers to within three points of a win at 22-19. An ace serve from Augedahl pulled the Warriors within a point at 23-22, and Caledonia tied the set at 23 on an attack error by Angela Tauer. Beekman and Mullins then traded kills to knot the score at 24 all, but a kill from Beekman and a service ace from Rachel Sanow gave the Tigers a 26-24 win in the third set.
Riding the win in the third set Marshall jumped out to a quick 6-1 lead in the fourth set. Fruechte recorded three kills to pull the Warriors back in the set at 7-5, and the Warriors tied the set at 10-10 on a Marshall miss-hit by Angela Tauer. The Tigers then went on an 8-4 run and led 18-14 and then went up 20-14 when a Fruechte kill sailed into the net. A kill from Beekman, her 22nd and final kill of the night, gave the Tigers a 22-16 lead before Fruechte’s 24th kill of the match made the score 22-17 and marked the final point of the season for the Warriors as Marshall rolled to a 25-17 win and the state championship. Koepke said “Our girls made our community proud they worked as hard as they could and the weekend was very special and a lot of fun for all of us. Maria, Taylor, and Emma made the all-tournament team. The bench cheered all weekend long supporting our girls so well. The fans were so awesome; the crowd was always cheering and really pumped the girls up. It was very fun to make the state tournament and then play better and better as the tournament went on.”
The Warriors got to the championship match with a huge win over previously undefeated Sauk Centre 25-21, 25-20, 25-9 Friday night. Koepke said “This was a very exciting night playing for a spot in the state championship. Sauk Centre came in 32-0 and they had a great middle in Macy Weller. She was coming off a 33 kill performance the night before so we knew she would need to be our focal point. She started out pretty strong and it took us about ¾’s of the first set to get her slowed down. Our block timing was just outstanding in this match. I thought we played great against Maple Lake and I thought we played even better on this night.” Koepke noted the play of several individuals during this match, saying “This was the night when the “Dirty work girls” were really on display. Our girls all play great defense, but Lauren Rusert, Lottie Augedahl and Lexy Bearbower rarely get their names in the paper or get to do the TV interviews. They just do all the dirty work playing their roles and doing whatever they can for the team. Their defense was just amazing!! Lauren had 20 digs, Lottie 11 and Lexy 6. They were so fun to watch scrapping and putting ball after ball up for Taylor to set. Maria, Lottie and Emma handled the serve receive very well and the girls served great. It was very fun to see how excited the girls were realizing they were going to play in the state championship.”
Caledonia started the tournament with an impressive win in the opening round over Maple Lake Thursday, winning 25-12, 25-21, 25-9. “The girls did not take long to get used to the court. They were very excited to get out there,” Koepke said. “Maple Lake was a very scrappy team that served very tough and we had to really grind it out. I thought we started to click in all phases of the game toward the end of the first set. After that we got rolling pretty well. The girls were very fun to watch and it was exciting to get off to such a great start. Taylor had a great night setting really putting a lot of balls in very hittable positions.
– Brady Ambrose