Volleyball: Z-M shows fight, but falls to Stewartville
ROCHESTER – If Zumbrota-Mazeppa was going down, it wouldn’t be without a fight.
Facing top-seeded and second-ranked Stewartville in the Section 1AA-West semifinals, the Cougars put up little resistance in the first two sets, losing 25-10, 25-12. But Z-M had shown success against the Class 2A powerhouse earlier this season, taking the Tigers to five sets.
“We figured that Stewartville was going to take us lightly and we were going to come in and fight back,” said Z-M libero Molly Lawler. “We knew our potential against them.”
The Cougars cut the third-set deficit to 24-23, but Stewartville completed the sweep, winning the match 25-10, 25-12, 25-23.
The loss was a bitter pill to swallow, but Z-M head coach Stacy Liebenow couldn’t be upset after the feisty comeback try.
“I couldn’t be prouder of them than in the third set to be able to come back and fight,” Liebenow said. “I told them before the start of the third game, ‘Leave everything out on the court,’ and they did that.”
Early on, the jitters seemed to get to the Cougars as the Tigers got four of their first five points thanks to Z-M hitting errors. When Stewartville was able to get their offense set, Maddie Hettinger was the big swinger for the Tigers, piling up a game-high 16 kills. Up 19-10 in the first set, Stewartville took a 1-0 lead after scoring six straight points to close out the set.
In the second set, the Cougars’ hitters were still out of sync as the teams’ first nine points came from hitting and serving errors by Stewartville. It wasn’t until a kill by Carley Henning that made it 17-10 that Z-M generated its own point during the second set. All afternoon, it was a frustrating hitting day for Henning, the Cougars’ top hitter.
“They knew Carley was our go-to when we needed it,” Liebenow said. “We were struggled on the outside trying to find a rhythm. They had a great block out there on our outsides and got in our outsides’ heads.
“They were pushing us to our limits and making us frustrated a little bit, so we were out of sorts.”
With elimination looming, Z-M was intent on going down swinging.
“Our plan was to just leave it all out on the court and play with heart,” said Lawler, who led the Cougars with 18 digs.
An ace serve by Henning made it 6-3, forcing the Tigers to take a time out. After that, Stewartville was able to regroup, tying the match at 9-9, then scoring eight of the next nine points to go up 18-10.
But from that point, the Tigers couldn’t close the match as a litany of attacking errors put the Cougars back into the match, 22-18. Then with Henning on the bench, Z-M’s other attackers came alive and cut the deficit to 23-21 after a kill by Katelyn Buck. Buck was the team’s leader in kills with six.
“We came back and our right sides finally found (the ball) and our outsides managed to keep the ball in play when Carley was out, too,” Liebenow said.
A swing by Henning went off a Stewartville blocker, cutting the Tigers’ lead to 24-23. But Stewartville was able to punch its ticket to the sub-section finals following a kill by Stephanie Schmidt.
Henning finished with four kills, and Kalli Paukert ended the match with 11 set assists and 11 digs. For the Tigers, Marissa Behrens finished with eight kills and Ashley Eberle and Meghan Schmitz had 14 digs apiece.
Again for Liebenow, it was hard to be upset after Z-M’s late surge.
“We had a great run this last five or six games. I told the girls, ‘There’s nothing to hang your heads about,’ Liebenow said. “Stewartville’s a great team; (head coach John Dzubay’s) got a great program. They’re a tough team.”