By Per Peterson
Two months ago, the TMB volleyball team opened its season with a four-set win over Windom. On Thursday night, the Panthers made it 2-0 against the Eagles and in the process kept open the door for a return trip to state.
The Panthers (29-3) rebounded from a lackluster performance Tuesday against Hills-Beaver Creek to defeat Windom and advance to the Section 3A title match with a 25-20, 25-19, 25-16 win.
“I remember after that (first match) that we beat a really good team and that we had a ways to go as a team,” TMB coach Rick Haberman said. “I think we’re an improved team from that night, for sure.”
TMB will take on Minneota for the Section 3A title at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday at the R/A Facility at SMSU.
While the Panthers have come a long way from that Aug. 29 match in Windom, nothing came easy against the Eagles on Thursday. TMB got down early in the first set before rallying and taking its first lead, 9-8, on a kill by Evy Dolan. Three straight Windom hitting errors pushed the lead to 12-8 and forced an Eagle timeout. The Panthers kept their foot down, however, and widened their lead to 16-8. The 8-0 run ended a point later, and TMB extended its lead to 18-10, but three straight service aces by Paige Pigman brought the Ealges back to within 18-14. Windom tallied two more points and eventually tied the set at 19 on a kill by Porsha Porath, but TMB responded down the stretch and closed out the set with the help of an ace tip by Syd Lanoue a kill by Samantha Edwards.
“They’re a team that definitely improved, and we’ve improved,,” Lanoue said. “It’s hard to base their play off of that first game we played them because both teams have gotten better. It was a hard-fought battle. It was fun.”
Set 2 was close as well. TMB had a hard time pulling away thanks to Windom’s block, which accounted for two straight points that brought the Eagles to within a point at 12-11.
“I thought our hitters did a really good job of going in loud, so they could pull some single blocks, which was helpful on the outside,” Lanoue said. “They’re a good blocking team. They’ve got some height to them, and unfortunately, they did get us a could times, but we pushed through that and kept swinging.”
Haberman said the Panthers knew going in that the Eagles’ block was formidable.
“That’s one of their strengths,” he said. “We’re trying to get better at covering so when they do block it we pick that up. We can still get a little bit better at that. What we don’t want is when we get blocked we get passive. Sometimes you need to test the block to see how good it is. Their block was good.”
The 12-11 score was as close as Windom could get. A block and a klll from Dolan made it 18-14, TMB, and the four-point lead held up, as Windom committed two more errors late in the set. TMB closed it out on kills by Lanoue and Edwards.
The Panthers opened Set 3 with a 12-6 run, and their lead grew to 17-8 on an ace serve form Kaylee Kirk. After a Windom timeout, kills by Lanoue and Karbo made it 19-8. Three straight kills by Lanoue, who had 19 of them, made it 23-13 and a service error by Windom brought the Panthers to within one point of claiming the match. Lanoue ended it when her push-tip found the back of Windom’s side of the court.
Haberman was pleased with the way his team rebounded from a less-than-stellar performance in their sub-section match earlier in the week.
“Tuesday night we kind of let fear of failure hinder us,” he said. “That happens in athletics. I think we started worrying about not winning, rather than focusing on the process. Tonight, I thought we did a much better job of playing to win rather than playing not to lose.”
The Panthers served at a 94.6% clip with Edwards and Cassidy Smith recorded two aces apiece. Kirk had 19 digs and Smith had 32 set assists and 14 digs.