On Thursday, St. James volleyball welcomed in rival New Ulm to the event center. In a match with playoff-like intensity, the Eagles topped the Saints in five sets, 25-22, 23-25, 25-10, 22-25, 15-7.

In the first set, St. James leaped out ahead of New Ulm 7-2, benefitting on a pair of New Ulm attacks that were delivered into the net.

New Ulm then countered, using a pair of aces from Ally Steffensmeier to first tie, then taking the lead 9-8.

The teams traded blows for the duration of the set, with neither team able to sustain any kind of momentum. St. James tied the set at 22, with Maddie Brey winning a battle at the net.

New Ulm would take the next three points, and come out on top of a back-and-forth first set.

In set two, St. James once again stormed out to an early lead, 9-4, fueled by kills from Addie Bowers, Korryn Karau, Kierra Curry, and aces from Callie Radenbaugh and Chloe Mickelson.

St. James continued to dominate in set two, at one point leading 17-8, and forcing New Ulm to use a timeout.

The Eagles settled down, fighting their way back to trail just 22-19 following an ace by Caitlyn Todesco.

With the Saints up 24-23, and Eagles holding serve, the event center burst into a thunderous cheer, as Nora Windschill’s serve went into the set, tying the match at one set apiece.

Splitting the first two sets against New Ulm was certainly a positive, but St. James easily could have been up 2-0 against the Eagles.

“I think we got such a big lead in the second set that they didn’t have to exert that huge effort,” said head coach Jodi Geistfeld. “I think they learned that they have to play hard the whole game.”

New Ulm used that positive momentum from the end of the second set to dominate the Saints in the third set.

This time, it was New Ulm capturing a large lead in the early portions of the set, and the Eagles never looked back.

Three straight aces by sophomore Maddi O’Connor to close the set sent the New Ulm crowd into a frenzy, as the St. James supporters looked on in silence.

The fourth set started much like the first and second sets, with St. James showing an extra sense of urgency, jumping out to a 6-3 lead.

New Ulm hung around, but a 5-0 run by St. James sprouted a 14-7 lead for the Saints.

An Addie Bowers put away pushed the Saints lead to 21-15 later in the set.

However, a kill by Natalie Yackley and three straight kills by Nora Windschill cut the Saints lead to 22-20.

With the Saints once again clinging to a close lead, Korryn Karau finished off the set with a kill, once again drawing an eruption from the home crowd.

The fifth and final set was all New Ulm.

The Eagles flew out to a 5-1 lead, forcing Geistfeld to use a timeout to try and swing momentum.

But some miscommunication and some unforced errors helped the Eagles to a 15-8 decisive win in the last set. Korryn Karau tallied 11 kills on the night for St. James.

“Right away we could tell that she was on her game,” said Geistfeld. “She had a few kills in that first set. She had a really good game today.”

Nora Windschill matched Karau kill for kill, providing a huge challenge for the St. James front. “We tried to shade to her side because we knew she was going to get set every time she was in the front row,” said Geistfeld. “She started to tip when she realized that we were blocking her, but she was tipping to our holes. She probably had four or five kills just from that.”

Even with the result, Geistfeld’s team can use this as a learning experience going forward, playing in future games with high intensity and emotion.

“They responded very well [to the intensity],” said Geistfeld. “This was a good situation for them to be in this early in the season, so hopefully next time we’ll come out on the winning side.”

The Saints did indeed come out on the winning side in their next match against Blue Earth Area, sweeping the Bucs 25-28, 25-8, 25-18.

The Bucs and Saints traded blows throughout the first set, with neither team being able to pull away until late in the set, when St. James used a quick attack by Maddie Brey and an ace by Chloe Mickelson to close out the Bucs in set one.

In the second set, St. James used an early run of kills from seniors Korryn Karau, Kaydi Anderson, and Kierra Curry to take a 7-3.

Unforced errors from the Bucs, an Addie Bowers kill, a Callie Radenbaugh ace and a block by Maddie Brey showcased an all-around onslaught from the lady Saints, forcing Blue Earth to burn a timeout.

More kills by Anderson and Karau extended the St. James lead to 22-8.

Maddie Brey brought a merciful end to the set with a perfectly placed serve, resulting in an ace and the game in favor of the Saints.

“We weren’t playing flat in that set,” said Geistfeld. “We have the attack to play all three sets that way.”

The Saints burst out to a 6-1 lead in the third set, but a trio of unforced errors brought the Bucs back into the game.

St. James looked poised to break free once again after a Karau kill made it 10-4.

The Bucs, down two sets to none, slowly clawed their way back, at one point cutting the Saints lead down to three late in the set, 19-16. Up 24-18, with Blue Earth Area holding serve, Mari Vargas sent a serve into the net, giving the Saints the victory and the sweep.

Kaydi Anderson led the Saints with 11 kills and three blocks, with Korryn Karau finishing with nine. Addie Bowers recorded nine digs.

Maddie Brey finished with 25 seta assists. Chloe Mickelson was 12/12 serving, with two aces.