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Saints lose trio at home, including a tough Senior Night match vs. New Ulm

Sean Ellertson
St. James Plaindealer

Last week, the St. James volleyball program opened up its season with three losses at the Event Center.

On opening night, the Saints faced off against rival St. Peter, dropping the match in four sets.

In the first set, an 8-0 run by the visitors put St. Peter up 10-3. The Saints would go on to take the opening set 25-18.

The hosts rebounded in the second set, and were jumpstarted by their defense. Kelsey Grunewald and Maddie Brey each recorded blocks early in the set, setting the tone.

"[Kelsey] was reading the hitter well," said head coach Jodi Geistfeld. "We have to continue to work on that. A lot of the time our blockers are watching the ball instead of watching the player."

A block and ensuing ace from Addie Bowers forced St. Peter to take a timeout with the hosts up 12-8.

St. Peter cut the lead to 14-12 later in the set, but a burst from the Saints helped clinch the set in favor of St. James 25-20.

The third set brought another early surge from St. Peter. The Saints used blocks from Lauren Niemeyer and Lilly Ruffin, as well as a pair of aces from McKenna VanZee to take a 6-2 lead early in the set. St. Peter would expand their lead to 15-3 in short order, using a couple of unforced errors to build the lead.

A pair of Allie Malmgren kills cut the lead to 21-14, but St. Peter put the set to rest shortly after, winning 25-14.

"Our passing wasn't there," said Geistfeld of the first and third sets. "We have to learn how to not give up the five or six runs in a row. We have to stop those at one or two. We had to keep our offense moving because they knew we were setting too many high outsides. Their blockers didn't have to move."

With their backs against the walls in the fourth set, St. James traded blows with St. Peter for much of the fourth set. 

St. James looked poised to pull away, taking a 13-9 lead in the middle of the set. Kills by Kylee Horner and Elizabeth Quist knotted up the score at 16.

Leading 21-20, St. Peter used four straight points, including a lucky ace from Quist, which hit the top of the net and fell over on the St. James side, to close out of the game 25-20.

Alli Malmgren and Addie Bowers paced the Saints in kills and digs. Malmgren finished with ten kills and nine blocks. Bowers had nine kills, 11 digs, and a solo block.

Maddie Brey had 24 set assists and was 13/13 serving. She also tallied six digs and a solo block. Kelsey Grunewald pitched in with five kills, three solo blocks, 12 digs, and was 10/12 serving.

On Saturday afternoon, the Saints were once again stunted in four sets, this time by Pipestone.

Tied at four in the first set, Pipestone exploded for an 8-0 run. Despite St. James' offense showing signs of life, Pipestone took the set handily 25-14.

Much like in the season opener, the Saints switched up on Pipestone. St. James took control of a competitive and balanced set. With the score tied at 12, the Saints embarked on an 8-2 run to flip momentum.

An ace by Bowers forced a Pipestone timeout. Out of the timeout, Brey and Taylor Sodeman, along with errors from Pipestone, pushed the Saints' lead to 20-14. 

A quick 6-0, highlighted by a pair of aces from Jessa Reinert, tied the game at 20.

With the game tied at 22, Pipestone tallied the final three scores, taking the set 25-22.

In the fourth set, Pipestone hit the ground running, jumping out to a 10-2 lead and never looking back on their way to a 25-12 clinching set win.

Chloe Mickelson let the Saints with six kills and eight digs. Grunewald had four kills and seven digs. Bowers recorded 12 digs and was a solid 9/11 serving with one ace, and a block. Brey had 18 set assists, a pair of kills, and two blocks.

On Tuesday night, the Saints celebrated their seniors and pushed the New Ulm Eagles to five sets, but ultimately fell 15-12 in the final frame.

For the third straight contest, the Saints split the first two sets before losing in the third.

However, unlike the previous two games, the Saints were the aggressors, taking a commanding 8-0 lead early in the fourth set.

"Well, our overall attitude was a big change from Saturday to today," said Geistfeld. 

"We weren't going to give up, we were going to keep playing. We had some good practices to prepare for this."

Three Brey aces and hard work at the net by Grunewald sparked the offense.

Kills from Malmgren and Bowers extended the lead to 13-3 later in the set.

A strong sequence from Riley Melby cut the lead to as close to five, but the Saints held strong, and with one final push, were able to force a deciding fifth set.

"We knew that they were going to come out and want to make a big run. We also wanted to do the same thing. We had a few pressure plays where we didn't do the smart thing. They started to attack the ball. They had been tipping, tipping, tipping, and we didn't attack very well."

In that fifth set, the teams traded blows and the score was tied at seven. A pair of Bowers kills and an error from New Ulm put the Saints up by three.

New Ulm called timeout to regather and tallied four straight points.

A big block by Bowers put the Saints back ahead 12-11. 

The Eagles called another timeout, and had one final surge, taking the set 15-12.

Brey was perfect serving in the contest, going  27/27 with five aces. She added ten digs, 28 set assists, and two blocks

Grunwald and Sodeman also served well, going 13/14 and 23/26, respectively.

Grunewald had an ace to go along with nine digs and two blocks. Sodeman tallied four aces, ten digs, and five set assists.

Alli Malmgren paced the Saints with ten kills. Bowers followed closely with nine, 15 digs, and four blocks. Mickelson added eight kills and ten digs.