ST. PAUL — As Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa came out guns ablazin’, Medford had to shake off the jitters.
The Tigers needed to slow down middle hitter Brittany Berge and they had to shore up a serve-receive that struggled to get the offense in system.
“We started with a lot of nerves,” said Medford head coach Missy Underdahl. “And once we got past those, then we were able to get the confidence there.”
With many returning players back from last year’s state runner-up squad, third-seeded Medford found its footing for a close first-set win. And from there, the Tigers didn’t slip up as they swept unseeded BBE at the Xcel Energy Center, 25-22, 25-18, 25-10.
“We came out really, really hot in set one,” said Jaguars head coach Steve Waddell. “The energy was with us and we were playing with them. But they’re a great team and they have a lot of experience. I think our inexperience showed a little bit as the match progressed. We played well for two-thirds of the match and the last third, we lost our cool.”
With the loss on Thursday, BBE falls to the consolation bracket where it was to take on unseeded Henning at 3 p.m. back at the Xcel Energy Center. The Hornets were swept by second-seeded Waterville-Elysian-Morristown, 25-11, 25-21, 25-18.
The Jaguars jumped out to a 6-2 lead to start the match. Heading that charge was Berge, who had eight of her team-high 12 kills in the opening stanza.
“Their line shot was open and I was able to hit some lines,” said Berge, who also had four digs in the match. “I didn’t have much cross but I have to admit, a lot of them, I just swung hard because they’re going to have a block in the middle.”
BBE’s serving also affected the Tigers’ ability to start an effective offense. Grace Illies and Karissa Jones both had ace serves, and Jones’ ability at the service line pinned down Medford’s serve-receive to the back of the court.
“We wanted to go after anyone that wasn’t wearing the gold jersey,” Waddell said, referencing libero Kiley Nihart. “They made some nice adjustments to our serves.”
Underdahl added, “As serve-receive goes, there’s not a lot you can change. We just knew they were serving deep at us and we had to make sure we were getting behind the ball.”
Tied 16-all in the first set, Medford scored five of the next six points and went up 21-17 on an Alyvia Johnson kill before BBE called timeout. The Jaguars closed the gap to 23-22 before the Tigers closed the opening set with a victory.
“Coming into a game like this, we were all a little bit nervous,” said Medford outside Emma Kniefel. “So when it was a close set like that and you get a victory, it definitely boosts our confidence. We knew we had to carry that into the second set and I thought that that was pretty easy for us because by that point, we were more adjusted to their serves.”
The second set saw BBE go on a five-point run to go up 5-2. In that stretch, Jones had two aces, Berge tallied a kill and Berge and Karsee Kampsen combined for a block.
But from that point, Medford pinned down the Jaguars’ attack as BBE attack percentage fell from .244 in the first to .029 in the second set.
“They had a great defense,” said Illies, who tallied four kills along with six digs and a block for the Jaguars. “We were hitting a lot and I like that we didn’t resort to tipping. That’s one of our strong suits. But they had some big middle blockers.”
Again, BBE cut the late second-set deficit to two (20-18) before the Tigers won the next five points to go ahead 2-0.
Junior middle hitter Kinsey Cronin was the top attacker for Medford with 15 kills on a .458 hitting percentage.
“I always have people tell me where the block was moving,” Cronin said, taking time to credit her teammates for aiding her efforts. “Going into it, I didn’t know what their block would be like. It was definitely a challenge to see around it.”
The third set was all Medford as they cruised to a 14-5 lead. By the time the Jaguars got to double digits, they trailed 22-10.
“They adjusted well,” Berge said. “I felt like I spent most of (the third game) on the bench.”
The hope of a state title is over now for BBE. But Waddell is hoping to keep his team around for all three days of state, starting with a win against Henning on Friday.
“We’re really focusing on working and keeping focus with the things that got us here: our quick offense, our heavy serving, our very good serve-receive and our defense,” Waddell said. “We lose sight of that when things get out of our hands so that’s kind of our focus now. We want to go back to what we’ve been preaching all season.
“We’re going to stay positive and keep playing hard and playing to live another day.”
Medford 3, BBE 0
BBE (23-9) 22 18 10
Medford (25-8) 25 25 25
Serving (aces): Grace Illies 1, Karissa Jones 3, Emily Kern 1 … Set assists: Karsee Kampsen 20, Kern 2 … Hitting (kills): Illies 4, Ava Mueller 4, Jones 2, Kampsen 1, Berge 12, Jenna Dingmann 1 … Blocking (aces): Illies 1, Jones 1/2, Kampsen 1/2, Berge 1/2, Brooke Deters 1 1/2 … Digs (5 or more): Kylie Winter 5, Illies 6, Kampsen 7, Kern 17
Serving (aces): Izzy Reuvers 1, Emma Kniefel 1, Jenna Berg 1, Kiley Nihart 2 … Set assists: Morgan Langeslag 36, Reuvers 2, E. Kniefel 1, Kinsey Cronin 1, Nihart 2, Alyvia Johnson 1 … Hitting (kills): Clara Kniefel 4, Reuvers 2, E. Kniefel 12, Langeslag 5, Berg 1, Cronin 15, Isabel DeLeon 2, Johnson 4 … Blocking (aces): C. Kniefel 1/2, Reuvers 1/2, E. Kniefel 1/2, Cronin 1, Johnson 1/2 … Digs (5 or more): Reuvers 15, E. Kniefel 12, Langeslag 14, Cronin 5, Nihart 12
State Class A playoffs
No. 1 Minneota 3, Greenway 0 (25-22, 25-15, 25-19)
No. 5 Fosston 3, No. 4 Mounds Park Academy 2 (22-25, 25-14, 22-25, 25-17, 15-9)
No. 2 Waterville-Elysian-Morristown 3, Henning 0 (25-11, 25-20, 25-18)
No. 3 Medford 3, Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa 0 (25-22, 25-18, 25-10)