WILLMAR -- Despite trailing for a majority of the match, Willmar outlasted Sartell 25-23, 20-25, 26-24, 19-25, 15-11 in a marathon that lasted nearly two hours Thursday night to remain unbeaten in the Central Lakes Conference.
The Cardinals (7-0, 10-4) never had more than a two-point lead until the fifth game and had to rally in every set they won.
"The girls worked hard in the offseason on their conditioning and it paid off (tonight)," said Willmar coach Mary Hanson. "If they were tired, we wouldn't have won the fifth game."
Hanson played just 11 girls and again a balanced attack kept the Cardinals tied on top of the CLC standings with Alexandria. The two meet Tuesday in Willmar.
Emily Nelsen and Jena Thompson had 11 kills apiece with Kelsey Evans piling up 10 more. Jennie Mattison helped set up the offense with 21 assists. Annalise Bratt ignited the defense with 27 digs.
Willmar couldn't come back from an 11-1 deficit in the fourth game -- although it did get within one at 16-15 -- but it grabbed a quick lead in the fifth game. The Sabres (3-4, 9-5) battled back to take an 8-4 lead, but the Cardinals closed out the game with an 11-3 run, which was capped by Evans' kill after two Sabres collided trying to defend the ball in the middle of the court, to collect their 10th win of the season.
"They had an outstanding defense," said Hanson of Sartell. "They blocked well to put the ball out of play and we didn't adjust. We'll have to stop (Alexandria's) hitters, put the ball behind its blockers and play a faster pace on Tuesday."
Willmar 3, Sartell 2
Sartell 23 25 24 25 11
Willmar 25 20 26 19 15
Statistics not available
Serving: Brittney Hastad 15-15-1, Annalise Bratt 12-14-1, Kelsey Evans 14-15-3, Hannah Smith 11-13-0, Emily Nelsen 12-15-1, Jennie Mattison 16-19-1 ... Setting: Taya Nelson 19-19-5, Bratt 6-6-1, Evans 10-10-2, Smith 31-32-11, Mattison 39-41-21, Jena Thompson 2-2-1 ... Hitting: Evans 29-32-10, Smith 20-25-4, Nelsen 27-34-11, Mattison 2-4-1, Alex Lippert 20-23-6, Thompson 15-18-11 ... Blocking (aces): Nelson 3, Evans 2, Smith 1, Nelsen 1, Lippert 3, Thompson 5 ... Digs: Nelson 6, Hastad 8, Bratt 27, Evans 10, Smith 15, Nelsen 11, Mattison 10, Brianna Johnson 5, Thompson 7