ST. JAMES - Every time the St. Clair volleyball team inched within striking distance of Martin County West on Tuesday night, Kennedy Janssen served the Mavericks just out of reach.
Janssen delivered a dozen pivotal points behind 15-for-16 serving, while setter Morgan Williamson cleared the 1,000 career assist plateau to engineer the Mavericks' 25-22, 25-20, 25-17 sweep over the Cyclones during playoff volleyball action in St. James.
No. 2-seeded Martin County West (21-9-1) advances to face fellow Valley Conference co-champion and No. 1-seeded Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial (23-7) at 7:45 p.m. Thursday at New Ulm Public High School for the Section 2A, South Sub-Section championship. LCWM reached the next round via a 25-14, 25-19, 25-12 sub-section semifinal sweep of No. 5-seeded Alden-Conger.
TIP OVER THE TOP — Martin County West hitter Libbie Lange (13) tips a set from Morgan Williamson (back right) over St. Clair’s double-block during Section 2A, South Sub-Section semifinal volleyball action Tuesday night in St. James. The Mavericks’ Hailey Leiding (4) watches the action. (Photo by Leanna Becker)
No. 3-seeded St. Clair ended its season with an 18-10 record.
"St. Clair's a great defensive team, so we knew they're good at digging up spikes and extending points," said Martin County West mentor Mary Sussenguth, whose lineup posted a 3-1 regular-season victory, including a marathon 32-30 Game 1 loss, over St. Clair on Oct. 11. "I thought we did a good job of keeping our intensity throughout the entire match, and that helped us do a better job of winning the extra-long rallies."
After the two teams battled back-and-forth to an 8-all tie in the opening game, Maverick middle hitter Kate Thiesse's quick-pounce vertical leap triggered a quick-wristed block of a Cyclone overpass to rotate freshman Jordan Gregory to the service line.
Gregory, who contributed a 15-for-15 service performance on the match, reeled off three points - with outside hitter Taryn Tumbleson unleashing a pair of kills - to give Martin County West only its second lead of Game 1.
A rare Maverick spiking miscue, however, later placed the volleyball in Cyclones' serving specialist Julia Day's capable hands and the junior reversed the momentum in St. Clair's direction.
Trailing 19-14, Day's topspin sizzlers generated four aces to trigger a seven-point service run before Gregory smacked a crucial sideout kill at Point 41. Gregory drilled a down-the-line ace off one of Williamson's match-best 25 set assists to rotate Janssen to the line.
Janssen regained the momentum for the Mavericks with a string of four unanswered points, including a block from Williamson, to inch the blue-and-black attack to 24-21.
Martin County West and St. Clair, however, traded long serves to end Game 1 at 25-22.
Taylor Goettl answered the challenge to open Game 2 with a four-point service run to stake the Cyclones to an early lead, but it would not last.
Gregory and Thiesse later dominated the air space near the net to fuel Molly Klima's pivotal five-point service stint to give the Mavericks an 11-9 edge.
Sophomore Hailey Leiding cranked a sideout kill to rotate Janssen to the line and the junior backrow specialist created separation on the scoreboard with two tallies behind a Thiesse block.
The two teams maintained the four-point differential until Klima's second tour of duty at the line produced Points 23 and 24. Leiding smacked a down-the-line spike off of a Williamson back set to close out the Mavericks' 25-20 Game 2 triumph.
Gregory's game-opening five-point run combined with Thiesse's seven-point service stint built an early 13-1 lead for Martin County West in Game 3.
The T-n-T combination of Tumbleson and Thiesse ignited Gregory's serving effort before Tumbleson and Libbie Lange dominated action near the net during Thiesse's run at the line.
Chelsea Schull, who topped St. Clair with seven kills, later reeled off five points from the line to trim Martin County West's margin to 15-11, but an errant serve proved costly.
Two rotations later, Janssen extended an 18-13 lead to a 10-point gap, as Thiesse and Gregory delivered the frontline damage.
Thiesse's kill off a Williamson set assist created the needed sideout at 24-17 before Thiesse made a saving scoop and followed up with the match-winning block on the same play.
Tumbleson pounded out 10 kills to top a balanced Maverick offensive effort, while Thiesse drilled six kills to complement a match-leading six ace blocks.
Gregory and Leiding each blasted five spike-winners, while Lange contributed four kills and two rejections for Martin County West.