Volleyball: Cougars crumble against ByronZ-M started with a 13-1 lead, but Byron clawed back, booting the Cougars out of the Section 1AA-West playoffs
By: Chris Harrell, The Republican Eagle
ZUMBROTA - It was the perfect start for Zumbrota-Mazeppa. Or so it seemed.
Hosting fifth-seeded Byron in a Section 1AA-West quarterfinal match, the Cougars began the match with a 13-1 run, as the Bears’ serve-receive was feeble against Brenna Hoven, who served 12 straight points.
But the script flipped immediately as Byron found a rhythm offensively, using an 11-0 run and a 7-0 run to complete the improbable comeback and knock off fourth-seeded Z-M in three sets.
“We let up and let them back in it quickly,” Z-M head coach Stacy Liebenow said of the 26-24, 25-17, 25-19 loss. “I don’t know if we got too comfortable … but hats off to Byron for not giving up. They could have easily thrown in the towel in that first game.”
But surrendering isn’t commonplace for the Bears. Byron head coach Jane Krier said her team has struggled with slow starts all season but find ways to finish matches.
“We’ve called them the comeback kids,” Krier said. “It drives me crazy but they’ve been able to do it. Once we got into our rhythm, we were OK.”
The first time the two teams met earlier this season, a Cougars win on Sept. 25, the Bears were without senior setter Jillian Krier. Her return made a big difference as Byron completed the comeback with Krier providing a match-high 37 set assists.
“Having her back is a whole different ballgame,” Liebenow said. “Their hitters were totally different early in the year without her.”
The Bears’ top two hitters, Anna Zamzow and Haley Tostenson, finished with 15 kills and 17 kills, respectively.
“Our offense was stronger than it’s been all season,” Jane Krier said. “Our hitters were on. It just all kind of came together.”
Z-M came out with passion Thursday to garner the huge lead early, thanks to stellar serving by the senior Hoven and strong play at the net from junior Carley Henning. Hoven had six kills and three ace serves while Henning finished with five kills in the loss.
“(Hoven) lit us a spark in that first game,” Liebenow said. “(Henning) came out on fire. She was fundamentally sound.”
But as the game continued, the Cougars began making mistakes and their confidence wavered. The energy Z-M started with disappeared and it allowed Byron back into the match.
“I think we started second-guessing passing and second-guessing our sets,” Liebenow said. “We played timid again.”
After losing the first set in such disappointing fashion, Z-M never fully got momentum back from the Bears and led just twice the rest of the way, both times in the first three points in the second and third sets.
“In the first set, we served aggressively,” Liebenow said. “We reverted back to little things we’ve been working on not doing. We went back to that old funk.”
The Cougars will lose just three seniors -- Hoven, libero Geena Miller and outside hitter Claira Sullivan -- but all three are starters had integral roles in the team’s success. Sullivan had a team-leading eight kills Thursday and Miller led the team with 20 digs.
Their departure will leave a large hole at the outside hitter position and on defense, Liebenow said.
“Next year will be interesting to see,” she said. “It’ll be a learning year. It’ll be a rebuilding year. We need to find our back row and our outside hitters.”
Z-M finished the season 11-13 overall and 8-5 in the Hiawatha Valley League.