Medford snags third at state
After sweeping Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa 3-0 in the first round of the state tournament, the Medford Tigers faced a familiar foe, fellow Gopher Conference member Waterville-Elysian-Morristown (W-E-M), in the state semi-finals on Friday, Nov. 8.
It was the fourth meeting between the two teams this season and unfortunately for the Tigers, the fourth time ended the same way as the first three as the W-E-M Buccaneers earned the win, this time via a three-game sweep.
Based on her team’s previous matches versus W-E-M, Medford Head Coach Missy Underdahl knew her team would have to get off to a strong start and keep it up throughout the match.
“We knew we had to stay aggressive, keep swinging, and let our cover be there if they did block us. I felt like we did a good job of that most of the game, but then at points we’d get really timid and we weren’t attacking as hard as we could have. Then, it just kind of gets to be a mental game and it just kind of breaks you down a little bit,” she said.
Due to those breakdowns and the Buccaneers surging offense, W-E-M won the first set 25-21.
She said the Buccaneers have a knack of finding and exploiting the Tigers’ weakness.
“W-E-M has been our bugaboo probably the last two years. We start out very confident and then for some reason they just do a good job of kind of slowly breaking us down and finding maybe it’s a hole in our defense or maybe one of our weaker serve receivers and they attack her. As the game progresses, it seems to change our confidence and we break down continually and we can’t seem to get past that,” Underdahl said. “We start fresh every set and then there’s one little thing that might go wrong and then it kind of just deflates from there.”
It was more of the same in the second set as the Buccaneers won 25-20 to take a commanding two set lead.
W-E-M got off to a hot start in the third set as they quickly built a 9-2 lead with Medford’s two points coming on two net errors by the Buccaneers.
The Tigers rallied to tie the set at 19-19, but after that it was all W-E-M as they went on to win the third and final set 25-20.
Senior Emma Kniefel said the Tigers’ defense didn’t do a good enough job limiting W-E-M’s runs.
“Honestly, we just let them go on too many runs. The runs were too long and at that point you have to keep coming back it’s hard to get that lead back,” she said.
Senior Kiley Nihart said the Buccaneers’ offense also deserves credit for its runs.
“They always had one good server in each set of the game that got us out of rhythm, pulled us out of system which makes it hard to come back from that,” she said.
Despite losing in the semi-finals, Underdahl hopes her players understand how far they’ve come.
“It’s the first time ever in Medford history that a girls’ team has ever made it to state, let alone to have a repeat year even with a different team, some girls are new, some girls are playing different positions but for the majority of the part they’ve all been around the team,” she said. “I just really hope that they can walk away from here realizing the impact that they have made on Medford. Win or lose, that community really doesn’t care how the outcome of the season or state went, they’re just so dang proud of these girls and these girls should be so dang proud of everything they’ve accomplished in their career here at Medford volleyball. These girls have been just a blessing to be a part of their lives.”
Kniefel led Medford with 13 kills and 22 serve receives with no errors. Junior Kinsey Cronin collected seven kills and senior Alyvia Johnson had six kills. Senior setter Morgan Langeslag recorded 29 assists and 11 digs. Nihart registered 21 digs and an ace serve.
The Tigers’ seniors ended their high school careers on a high note by sweeping the Fosston Greyhounds in the third-place game.
Medford won both of the first two sets by the same score, 25-16. The Tigers then won the third and final set 25-17 to earn third place and improve their record to 26-9.
Kniefel again led the way, this time she collected 15 kills, nine digs, and two ace serves. Cronin recorded 17 kills, Johnson tallied eight kills, and Clara Kniefel registered six kills. Langeslag hit six kills, 45 assists, and nine digs. Nihart led the team in digs with 11.
After finishing runner-up last year, the Tigers bring a trophy and individual medals back to Medford for the second straight year.