Prep Volleyball: Sharp Sting surge into postseason
GRANITE FALLS -- Starting the season 1-3, it seemed like it would be another up-and-down fall for the Yellow Medicine East volleyball team. "Right away, we were not clicking," said senior middle hitter Meeghen Dahlager. "We were figuring out the ...
GRANITE FALLS - Starting the season 1-3, it seemed like it would be another up-and-down fall for the Yellow Medicine East volleyball team.
"Right away, we were not clicking," said senior middle hitter Meeghen Dahlager. "We were figuring out the kinks and everything like that. After we got through the first five, we needed to put our foots down, get together as a team and achieve our goals to make the team successful."
From that point, the Sting kept winning at a pace YME has not seen in a decade.
Gaining the No. 3 seed in Section 3A-North, the Sting enter the postseason riding a 17-game win streak.
Normally a team that hovers at the .500 mark, the last time YME won 17 games in a season was 2008, when the Sting went 22-5 and reached the Section 3AA finals against state power Marshall.
Back in 2008, YME was still a part of the West Central Conference and head coach Leah Fadness was still a high-school volleyball player herself at Minneota.
"To be honest, I was unaware of where the program was. Everyone tells me it's so phenomenal and we haven't had a winning season like this," said Fadness, who is in her third year as the Sting's head coach. "It's been really great for the kids. It's brought the school and community together. We continue to get more people to show up. More and more people want to be a part of YME volleyball."
They will take the court for the first time this postseason on Friday against sixth seed Russell-Tyler-Ruthton after the Knights swept 11th seed Lac qui Parle Valley in a play-in game on Monday.
"Everywhere I go, everyone comments on (the win streak) and everyone is super excited for us," said junior setter Madison Hinz. "Everyone gets pumped up for games and we have more attendance. It's been fun."
The Sting's hot play started in an unlikely place: the Southwest Challenge.
Held at both Marshall High School and Southwest Minnesota State University, many of the state's top teams play in the 32-team tournament. Smaller schools around the Marshall area are invited and usually become first-round wins against the higher caliber, and often bigger sized, schools traveling to southwest Minnesota.
"Last year we got dead last," said senior middle hitter Mackenzie Dyrdahl, who has 226 kills and 33 blocks on the year. "And this year we won the first day and two the second day."
Ending the Southwest Challenge with wins against LeSueur-Henderson and Waconia, YME won its next eight matches with sweeps, including a 4-0 showing at an invitational in Hancock.
And they kept winning after that.
"In the past when we've gone (to the Southwest Challenge), we just expected to lose," Fadness said. "We had a gut-check moment there. Just because things haven't always gone our way doesn't mean that it has to always happen. We talked about expecting more of ourselves and it led to expecting more of others."
Play across the court has improved from last year, with a lot of that success being led by the team's improved passing according to Fadness. For the players, holding each other accountable has given the team a stronger constitution.
"Everyone knows that if one person gets on each other, it's not because we're mad at you.It's because we know you can do better and know you can succeed," said Dahlager, who has a team-high 275 kills. "We're hard on each other because we know each of us can do better."
"We have really good team chemistry and our attitudes all line up and we good, positive attitudes about everything," said Hinz, who tallied 649 set assists in the regular season. "We all play together as a team and play for each other and not ourselves."
Last week against Redwood Valley, YME found itself on the ropes after getting blown out in the fourth set 25-14, forcing a decisive fifth set. The Sting of old would likely have folded. But this year's squad rebounded from the poor fourth set to clinch the match with a 15-9 fifth-set victory.
"It was especially good for us to win because no one was having a good game," Hinz said. "In our history, we don't usually win close games like that. It pumped us up and motivated us."
"It's rewarding to work through a lot of different situations and we're much stronger than any of them think they are," Fadness added. "Different people have brought a lot every single time we compete."
Getting out of the North sub-section won't be easy with fourth-ranked Wabasso and top-ranked Minneota in the bracket. It's unfamiliar territory already for the Sting, so why not extend the win streak even further.
"We did not anticipate our season going like this," Dahlager admitted. "Kenzie and I thought it would be a rebuilding year. Having our underclassmen come in and blow our expectations, it's been an amazing run."
Fadness added, "My kids are really hungry to get to the sub-section finals. It's so rewarding to be around kids who want to be competitive. When I started here, our competitive drives wasn't near where it's at now. I'm proud of where we've gotten ourselves by pushing ourselves a little harder. Everyone wants to be the playmaker now, whereas in the past, it was the playwatcher."