SHERBURN - There will be a new Class A state volleyball state champion when the three-day tournament ends on Saturday.
Two-time defending state champion Bethlehem Academy did not qualify for this week's state competition that kicks off today at 1 a.m. at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
The Martin County West Mavericks, who lost to the No. 1-ranked Cardinals in the opening round of last year's tournament, couldn't be happier.
SPIKERS TO STATE — Members of the Martin County West Maverick volleyball team playing Southwest Christian at 3 p.m. today in the Class A state tournament at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul include, front row (l-r): Summer Schuneman, Ellie Kuehl, Molly Klima, Jordan Gregory, Haley Jensen and Taryn Tumbleson. Back row: Sydney Shade, Kyra Dorr, Kennedy Janssen, Autumn Smith, Kate Thiesse, Hailey Leiding, McKenna Taylor and Reilly Geistfeld. (Photo by Leanna Becker)
"These girls have gotten better in each of the playoff games," said Martin County West head coach Mary Sussenguth. "It is so great to see these girls play hard and have such success as the season has gone on."
The unranked Mavericks (26-6) will face last year's state runner-up and No. 3-seeded Southwest Christian of Chaska in a 3 p.m. state quarterfinal match today.
The Stars (28-5), who are making their third state tournament appearance, return 2012 Class A all-tournament selection senior Mackenzie Horkey as well as six other returning players from last season's second-place squad.
"We don't know very much about them," Sussenguth said about her team's No. 3-seeded opponent. "I've heard some things through word of mouth from other coaches, but we haven't seen them play this year."
Like their opponents, the Mavericks also return the majority of their roster from last year's state tournament team, including seniors Kate Thiesse, Kennedy Janssen and Autumn Smith.
"Kennedy just earned her 1,000th set assist," said Sussenguth. "We've had a balanced offensive attack all season, and she does a great job of distributing the ball evenly."
With hitters like Thiesse, Hailey Leiding, Reilly Geistfeld and McKenna Taylor, Janssen has plenty of offensive weapons to choose from.
"I think that this season Kate has been our balancer and our leveler," said Sussenguth. "She is friends with everyone and leads by example. The other girls look to her to be a leader, and with her playing well all season, the other hitters have raised their level of play, too."
Of course, missing from the front line has been junior Taryn Tumbleson, whose presence has been felt along the sideline instead of at the net.
"This was a very close group of girls even before Taryn's accident at the beginning of the season. I think with adversity like that, it just brought them even closer together," said Sussenguth. "And I think that we have faced a lot of adversity this season. These girls have played through it and it is so great to make it back to state."
The Mavericks, who went a perfect 10-0 through the Valley Conference, battled against Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial for the championship in late September before sweeping the Knights in the Section 2, South Sub-Section final on Oct. 29.
Martin County West then bounced back from a Game 2 loss to BOLD in the Section 2 championship to win 3-1 and advance to today's quarterfinal match.
"Last year at state, these girls had a lot of fun, but they knew that this year, if they got back, they wanted more," said Sussenguth. "They are happy to be going back, but they want to win this year."
No. 1 seed Fillmore Central will square off against Ada-Borup, while No. 4 seed Win-E-Mac will play No. 5 seed Nevis in today's 1 p.m. Class A state openers.
No. 2-seeded Minneota will take on Carlton in the other 3 p.m. quarterfinal matchup today.
Win or lose, the Mavericks will play their second-round match at 3 p.m. Friday at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
"We have an ability to fight. These girls never give up and they love playing volleyball," said Sussenguth. "They are so passionate about this sport, they just aren't going to settle."