BBE, Mayer Lutheran to square off at state 3 years after first meeting
ST. PAUL -- In Kevin Weller's first season of coaching Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa, Mayer Lutheran ousted his Jaguars in the opening round of the 2007 Class A State Volleyball Tournament. Three years have since passed and the two programs will meet again in the first round of the state tournament today at 3 p.m. at the Xcel Energy Center.
The records for both teams are nearly identical from three years ago. BBE, currently 27-2, was 27-3 entering the tournament in 2007 and Mayer Lutheran was 17-11. The Crusaders head into today's match 21-11, but all of their losses have come against Class AA and AAA teams, including four schools that are also at the state tournament -- Delano, Hutchinson, Waconia and Wayzata.
A loss is a loss, but the experience gained in playing against tough opponents can help teams overcome adversity in the postseason.
"We play a very tough schedule and learn from playing the bigger classes," said Mayer Lutheran coach Joelle Grimsley.
BBE's only two losses came early in the season when they fell to defending Class AA champion Marshall and Burnsville, a Class AAA school, at the Southwest Minnesota State University Challenge in Marshall on Sept. 10-11. The Jaguars finished 3-2 at the tournament by beating two Class AAA teams and a Class AA team. Their two losses were by a combined 12 points in four games. BBE opened its season by beating Sauk Centre, who qualified for the Class AA state tournament.
"We have been trying to make our schedule tougher each year for that purpose," said Weller, who has guided BBE to state in three of his first four years coaching. "Three years ago when we went against Mayer Lutheran they had played a similar schedule and we did not play any of those (bigger schools) and I felt that experience gave them an edge. This year I hope we are a little more experienced because of our schedule."
A reason why Mayer Lutheran has made it this far has been its balanced offensive attack. While BBE has Maggie Gruber (470 kills and 93 blocks) as its main weapon, the Crusaders have five players that can give teams trouble. Sophomore outside hitter Nicole Schmidt leads the team with 240 kills, while senior middle hitter Sara Schmidt has 192 kills, freshman outside hitter Rachel Schmidt 132, junior middle hitter Taylor Rollo 106 and senior middle hitter Hailey Siegle 98.
"Offensively, we have several people that are able to swing effectively and get points," said Grimsley. "It's a great advantage when we have three strong hitters up front. If one hitter is struggling it's very helpful to have two others available. It has helped us to be a bit more well-rounded."
BBE has flustered teams all season with its defense, but Weller said his squad hasn't seen a team like Mayer Lutheran.
"It appears they are very balanced as all attackers are pretty even on sets and kills," said Weller. "It will be different than what we have seen. We will need to keep getting touches at the net to slow them down."
Mayer Lutheran will have a tough task of its own trying to contain Gruber, a 6-foot-2 senior middle hitter who is averaging five kills a game.
"I don't think we will be able to slow Gruber down. Not many have," said Grimsley. "It just comes down to making plays and not making mistakes throughout the match."
A part of Gruber's success can be attributed to BBE setter Julie Hieserich. The senior has piled up 965 assists on the season and has a chance to finish her prep career with at least 2,500.
Also benefitting from Hieserich's efficient sets are sophomore outside hitters Brittany Roelike and Taylor Braegelman and junior middle hitter Shyan Kuefler. Roelike has 201 kills, Braegelman 187 and Kuefler 143. BBE's four main offensive weapons have put 85 percent of their attacks in play.
"Those two are something special," said Weller of Gruber and Hieserich, who are the only seniors on the team. "I have trust in them that they will make the right decisions on and off the court. They are not the most outspoken on the team, but they lead by intensity and play."
BBE is hoping the intensity and play of everyone on the team can lead them to the semifinals and beyond.