NEW ULM - Thursday's match against Fairmont was nothing if not unbalanced for the New Ulm volleyball team.
The Eagles saw the Cardinals pull away for big victories in the first and third sets of the match, but the second set turned into a neck-and-neck thriller.
The two teams were tied a total of 15 different times during the second set, but Fairmont managed to pull ahead at the end in a convincing 25-15, 25-23, 25-16 South Central Conference victory.
Staff photo by Steve Muscatello
New Ulm’s Alley Grejtak (8) spikes the ball as Fairmont’s Kersten Shantz sets up a block attempt Thursday at NUHS.
"We've done a pretty good job this season in the second set of picking up our game," New Ulm head coach Chris Otto said. "We come out, we start a little slow actually, and after that they wake up a little bit and want it a little bit more, and then they play a little bit harder after that."
New Ulm earned the first point in the opening set, but the Cardinals tied the score on a kill by Kayla Lardy (10 kills) and continued to increase their lead from that point on.
The Eagles hung around to keep within striking distance in the set, but with the score at 15-8 the Cardinals' Emily Kim (three aces) produced an eight-point service run that stunted the home side's hopes of a comeback.
New Ulm staged a late rally behind a five-point service run by Chase Schewe (14-for-14 serving, two aces), but Fairmont finally ended the set on a tip kill by Lardy.
Throughout the set the Cardinals were very effective at blocking at the net, earning six of their points via ace blocks.
"It's really a mental thing, you have to see the block and know what's open on the court," New Ulm senior Courtney Lang said. "It took us a little bit to figure out what was open, but then once we figured it out we were able to put the ball away at times."
Fairmont opened the second set with a 3-0 run, but a four-point New Ulm run that included an ace by Schewe and a Sarah Nelsen kill set the tone for what would be a wild set to follow.
Between the time that the score was tied 3-3 and 21-21, the two teams tied on each number except for 11, 15, 18 and 19.
"It was just like tug of war, it felt like - we were going back and forth, back and forth," Nelsen said. "As well as we did serving, we didn't actually have a big serving run. We weren't able to keep gaining our points and winning each point."
During that stretch the Eagles served and passed the ball as well as they have all season.
"Our serves were really good, this was a really good serving game for us," Lang said. "We did a really, really good job passing, and I think we psyched them out the second game once we started digging their balls and blocking against them, that shook them up a little bit."
A kill by Schewe gave New Ulm a 22-21 lead, but the Cardinals ended the set on a 4-1 run to pull ahead 2-0 in the match.
Fairmont built on its victory in the second set to pull out to an 11-2 lead in the third set, at which point New Ulm called a timeout to halt the Cardinals' momentum. The Eagles matched Fairmont point-for-point the rest of the way, but weren't able to reduce the deficit to any fewer than six points.
The main reason the Cardinals were able to earn the victory came down to their play at the net. Although New Ulm set up a number of strong attacks, too often the Eagles' hits went straight into a Fairmont block.
"We passed the ball well, we dug well, we served better tonight than we've served all season long," Otto said. "We had our opportunities passing as well tonight, I thought we set really, really well tonight. We just really struggled putting the ball away at the net."
The Eagles also established a very effective blocking game in the match. Nelsen and Lang led the team by being a part of two ace blocks apiece, with Alley Grejtak and Katie Forst also getting involved in an ace block apiece.
"Once you get one block, then you're just psyched in your head," Lang said. "When you're more into it and have more energy, you just get higher and get more blocks."
"We did a good job of blocking with attitude tonight, and that's one of our big goals, is blocking with attitude," Nelsen added.
Sydney Schuck and Briana Sieve led New Ulm's strong defensive effort with 12 and 10 digs, respectively. Grejtak led the team with five kills, with Nelsen and Schewe each adding four kills.
The Eagles (1-16, 1-6) will be tested to their limit on Monday when they host Marshall, the No. 1 ranked team in Class AA.
"We've got a tough match against Marshall on Monday, but we're going to really get our hitting in check [today] at practice and give them a run for their money," Lang said.