ST. PAUL - A slow start can be overcome. But against the top-seeded and top-ranked team in Class AA, the chances of making the comeback are awfully daunting.
And that was the predicament unseeded Kenyon-Wanamingo found itself in. By the time the Knights found their stride against Maple Lake, it was too late. And the top-seeded Irish made K-W pay by knocking them out of state championship contention with a three-set victory (25-19, 25-18, 25-22) in the state quarterfinals Thursday at the Xcel Energy Center.
"We came out ready and then we got deflated in the first and second sets," said Knights' senior setter Maddie McCauley. "Third set, we came out and felt like we had the energy and we were playing with it again. We just lost it at the end."
The match had an auspicious start for the Knights when the Irish took a 5-0 lead, thanks in large part to three ace serves from Amber Klug.
"I'm used to serving first and it's important to start out strong," said Klug , who finished the match with five aces. "If you miss the first serve, it's the biggest, 'Ugh, this sucks' moment.' I'm really glad I started off strong."
The first set looked like it would be a blowout with Maple Lake pulling ahead 22-12, but K-W showed its resilience with a six-point run to make it 22-18 before the Irish took the 1-0 lead.
"That's tough," McCauley said of seeing the Knights play its best during deficits. "If we were playing like that (early) in the first match, it might have went differently. You can't do anything about it now."
The next set saw Maple Lake jump out to a 15-7 edge before K-W scored nine of the next 10 points to tie the set at 16-16 following a violation by the Irish.
In quick order, with a kill from Brynn Paumen and two from Linsey Rachel, Maple Lake went up 19-16 and secured the momentum for a second-set victory.
"I knew they were a good defense with an awesome libero," said Rachel, who led the match with 18 kills. "I just went up and tried to hit some good shots and hope they stayed in."
While the Irish had Rachel and Mollie Scheiber (eight kills) pace the offense, the Knights had to deal with a large block with 6-foot-2 Brynn Paumen and 6-1 Kaleigh Beehler. The two combined for 5 ½ of the team's nine blocks.
"It was hard. Those blockers were really big but we've been working on hitting around the blocks and our setters were able to see where they were," said K-W senior middle hitter Corynne Dahl, who finished with eight kills. "It was hard but I think it was doable."
Knights' head coach Jen Nerison added, "What I really liked about my team is that they were aggressive. They don't go out there, see that big block and back off. They bring a 'Bring it on' attitude."
Maple Lake slowed down K-W's top hitter as Ally Peterson finished with 12 kills and nine errors on 41 attempts for a .073 attack percentage.
"When we're playing a team we're not super familiar with, we try to find their top hitter and key on them for a little bit," said Irish head coach Marty Kiebel. "We've been able to slow down a lot of kids this year."
The match appeared on the verge of a fourth set with things tied at 22-22 before Maple Lake closed out the night with a Scheiber kill, a K-W ball-handling error and Rachel's 2,000th career kill.
"They had a quicker offense and it took us some time at the net to adjust to that," Nerison said. "We had some nice touches and nice blocks but we weren't as consistent as we have been."
With the loss, K-W will play Hiawatha Valley League foe Kasson-Mantorville in the consolation semifinals at 5 p.m. Friday. The fifth-seeded KoMets fell into the consolation bracket after suffering a five-set loss to fourth-seeded Holy Angels.
Maple Lake 25 25 25
K-W 19 18 22
Kills: ML-Linsey Rachel 18, Mollie Scheiber 8, Amber Klug 6; KW-Ally Peterson 12, Cirynne Dahl 8, Maddie McCauley 4.
Digs: ML-Rachel 19, Scheiber 13, Calli Maki 8; KW-Sydney Way 14, Peterson 13, McCauley 4.
Set Assists: ML-Klug 21, Ella Kiebel 18; KW-McCauley 16, Madi Luebke 10.
Blocks: ML-Brynn Paumen 3, Kaleigh Beehler 2 ½, Klug 1 ½; KW-Dahl 1 ½, Julianna Boyum 1, Peterson 1.
Ace Serves: ML-Klug 5, Rachel 1, Paumen 1, Scheiber 1; KW-Peterson 2.