Cougars capture sub-section crown, fall to Medford in section final

Mabel-Canton seniors accept the sub-section championship trophy at Mayo Civic Center on Thursday, Nov. 1, after defeating Spring Grove. From left are Maddy Michels, Hannah Snell and Lexi Thorson. It was the Cougars' second postseason tournament title in the last four years and 14th all-time. The Cougars went on to play Medford on Saturday at the Mayo Civic Center, ending their season as the Section 1A Runners Up. PHOTO COURTESY OF TIFFANY DANIELSON
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The Mabel-Canton volleyball team saw its season come to an end in the Section 1A volleyball title match against Medford on Saturday, Nov. 3 by a score of 3-1 (24-26, 21-25,25-18, 21-25). M-C had advanced to its first section title contest since 2015 after capturing the Sub-Section 1A East title against Spring Grove on Thursday, Nov. 1, winning the fifth match this season between the Southeast Conference opponents by a score of 3-0

The state-ranked Cougar volleyball team finished a fantastic season with a 30-6 record,

Beat SG 3-0

(25-21, 25-9, 25-21)

The Cougars made their seventh-straight appearance in the Sub-Section 1A East tournament title match against Southeast Conference rival Spring Grove at the Rochester Civic Arena. Mabel-Canton came in with 29 wins on the season, looking to win 30 matches for the 10th time in 11 seasons. However, Cougar coach Lonnie Morken said you throw out the records against a conference opponent like Spring Grove.

“It’s the fifth time we’ve played Spring Grove this season,” Morken said. “They were in the middle of their best record in school history and playing in the subsection finals for the first time in 17 years. We were as familiar with them as they were with us.

"One thing we knew for sure is when Mariah Edgington was in the front row, they were going to be tough to stop, and their ball control and defense were phenomenal.”

The Cougars wound up winning the match in three-straight sets, Mabel-Canton got off to fast starts in all three sets, but Spring Grove (26-4) wouldn’t ever quit against M-C.

“We got off to a quick start behind some great serving by Lexi Thorson,” Morken said. “Spring Grove then rotated Mariah (Edgington) to the front, and she got a flurry of kills to tighten the score right up. The middle of the set stayed pretty even before we went on a little spurt to extend our lead. In the end, we finished the set strong winning 25-21. 

“The second set was similar to the second set we played in Spring Grove earlier, however, it wound up with us winning with the lopsided score,” he said. “Spring Grove hurt themselves with errors, and we played really clean volleyball and pulled it out 25-9. 

We carried that momentum into the third set and jumped out to a near double-digit lead with Mariah playing in the back row,” Morken added. “Things looked like they could become a runaway for us again, but to SG's credit, they turned things around and caught up again. We ended up riding the hot arm of Sarina Stortz to the win.”

Stortz was fantastic at the net, getting a career-high 17 kills in only 41 attempts (only two errors, 36% efficiency). Maddy Michels was close to double-figures with nine kills while Payton Danielson added eight.

Morken said the team’s offensive efficiency at the net (20%) was the highest in the five matches the Cougars played with Spring Grove this season. The Cougars finished with 42 kills in 140 attempts, while only committing 14 errors.

However, the defense was also solid in the win over the Lions. Morken said the defense did a great job of not letting the Spring Grove offense get into an extended rhythm.

The back-row defense came up with an impressive 78 digs in the three sets with five players in double figures. Kenidi McCabe led the team with 20 digs while Danielson (13), Thorson (11), Lauren Wyffels (11) and Hannah Snell (10) also contributed double-figures in digs.

The front row contributed five blocks against the Lions with Stortz topping the team with one ace block and two assists.

At the service line, the Cougars hit 68 of 75 serves successfully (91%) and had three ace serves. All three ace serves belonged to Thorson, who only missed three serves all night (20 of 23, 87%).

Michels was a perfect 14 for 14 at the line with Snell adding 11 serves in 12 attempts. McCabe had another successful night running the offense with 37 of the team’s 40 set assists.

“We were not expecting a sweep at all,” said Morken. “I want to congratulate Spring Grove on a fantastic season. They lose five great seniors that really helped their program achieve major success in the last two seasons.”

Lost to Medford 3-1

(24-26, 21-25, 25-18, 21-25

The Medford Tigers came in with a 26-5 record, and the taller players in the Tiger front row would give the smaller front row of Mabel-Canton some trouble. Morken said the Tigers were having their best season in school history, were tall and athletic, and featured a good setter and libero.

“We knew if they were in system, they could give our smaller blockers some trouble,” Morken said. “We started slow, but then caught up and had an 18-15 lead and then led 20-18 when they burned their last timeout.

"We erred on three straight balls to give them the lead.  We tied the score at 23 on a kill by Jordyn Newgard. Medford answered with back-to-back kills to win the first set 26-24.  A first-set win would've been crucial for our confidence, but I still thought we were going to win the match

“Medford jumped out again in the second set before we led 12-10,” Morken recalled. “It stayed tight all the way up until 20-20, and they scored five of the last six points to win 25-21.

"As we switched sides, I could feel that our kids still believed we could win. We played very clean and won the third set 25-18. I truly thought we were going to win the next two sets. However, it wasn't meant to be.

“Similar to the second set, we were tied at 21-21 and Medford scored the final four points off of two kills and two hitting errors by us,”

Morken said. “It was a crushing loss for our girls. Medford elevated their play and we didn't. It was a tough way to go out, especially for our three seniors.

"Part way through the second set, we started feeding junior middle hitter Sarina Stortz, who followed up her excellent performance in the Spring Grove game with another great one against Medford. She recorded 19 kills.

“She was followed by Maddy Michels with 10 kills and Jordyn Newgard with seven. We had a hard time getting our outsides involved because of their size. Medford was 6-foot-2, 6-0, 6-0 and 5-11 across the front, and they could jump.”

Stortz was once again very efficient at the net, getting her team-high 19 kills in 47 attempts (only 5 errors, 20% efficiency). The Cougar attack totaled 51 kills in 219 attempts (26 errors, 11% efficiency). McCabe led the team with 48 of its 51 set assists in the loss.

Mabel-Canton went 85 of 92 at the service line (92%) and tallied up three aces. Michels (18 for 18) and Danielson (13 for 13) each had perfect nights at the line.

The Cougars worked incredibly hard defensively, getting 142 digs in the four sets. Four Cougars had more than 20 digs apiece, and five wound up in double figures. McCabe once again led the back row with 29 digs while Danielson added 28.

The front-row defense had one of its best nights of the season as the Cougars came away with eight ace blocks (Michels five) and two assists.

“It was a great season for us,” Morken said. “I am so proud of what we accomplished after having to replace two excellent attackers from last year. We really battled on Saturday and made some great defensive plays. It was a fun, close match to be a part of. I just wish we could've pulled it out, but Medford played great and deserved to go to state.”

Looking Ahead

The Cougars will say goodbye to three seniors, each of who played big roles in another successful season of Mabel-Canton volleyball. Outside hitter Lexi Thorson, defensive specialist Hannah Snell, and middle hitter Maddy Michels all wrapped up their four years of Cougar volleyball with the loss on Saturday.

The good news is all of the experience back next season for the Cougars, which includes 12 of the 15 players on this year’s roster. The returning nucleus of veterans will include names like Lauren Wyffels, Avery Davis, Payton Danielson, Sarina Stortz, and Kenidi McCabe.