ROCHESTER — Tough to knock out a champion.
That proved true once more on Thursday night at Mayo Civic Arena as defending state volleyball champion Cannon Falls asserted itself late and beat the No. 1 seed in the Section 1-2A semifinals, Chatfield.
The fourth-seeded Bombers prevailed in a marathon, winning 25-21, 22-25, 21-25, 25-23, 15-12.
“I think we just told ourselves we've done this before, we can do it,” said Cannon Falls outside hitter Karsyn Winchell, also a key piece to last year’s state title team. “We had that attitude that we’d been in tough matches before.”
Cannon Falls coach Melissa Huseth was preaching that same mindset as she sought any edge possible against a team as good as Chatfield.
The reminder of their championship experience worked well.
“We have girls who know how to win,” Huseth said. “So I think having had that success helped them to believe that they can finish in tight situations.”
Chatfield, ranked second in the state, looked ready to polish things off in the fourth set. After an ace serve by Hannah Tweten, the Gophers led 22-20. But they couldn’t hold it.
Cannon Falls showed up as a deceiving No. 4 seed. The Bombers played almost the entire season without two-time All-State outside hitter Madison Burr. But the 6-foot-1 senior has returned for the playoffs and it’s made all the difference.
She is getting all kinds of support, too. While Burr had 19 kills and 21 digs, Kallie Johnson, Winchell and Falon Hepola were right there with her. Johnson had 18 kills and 14 digs, Winchell 12 kills and 23 digs, and Hepola 46 set assists and 18 digs.
It was Winchell who ended the match, blasting a kill down the line.
From there, it was a massive celebration from the state’s defending champion. The elation was in good part because they know just how good Chatfield is. The Gophers entered with just two losses all season and a pack of excellent players led by star junior outside hitter Jaelyn LaPlante.
Winchell admitted that all of that gave her team plenty of worry going into the match.
“(Chatfield) is very good, so we were very nervous,” Winchell said. “I think it was our defense that really stepped up and led to us winning.”
Chatfield first-year coach Kristi Rindels tried to remind her team just how good it is as it prepared for Cannon Falls, which has a superstar in Burr and plenty more talent around her.
Turns out her confidence-prodding effort likely only had partial success. Chatfield got off to a tough start, got things together, but then couldn’t finish the deal.
“I think playing Cannon Falls had a bit of a mental effect on us because of what they did last year,” Rindels said. “But I tried to tell our girls that we have just as many stars as they do.. In the end, we just didn’t capitalize on all of the opportunities that we had.”
Cannon Falls takes a 15-16 record into Saturday’s noon final with No. 2 seed Caledonia
Chatfield’s spectacular season ends at 26-3.
Chatfield and Cannon Falls faced off in a Section 1, Class 2A semifinals volleyball game on Nov. 2, 2023, at the Mayo Civic Center. Cannon Falls won 3-2.
Cannon Falls 3, Chatfield 2Cannon Falls#25#22#21#25#15Chatfield#21#25#25#23#12No. 4 Cannon Falls: Falon Hepola 4 kills, 46 assists, 18 digs; Karsyn Winchell 12 kills, 23 digs; Kallie Johnson 18 kills, 14 digs, 2 blocks, 1 ace; Madison Burr 19 kills, 21 digs, 5 blocks; Katie Tipton 3 assists, 28 digs, 3 aces; Claire Meyers 1 assists, 6 digs, 1 ace.No. 1 Chatfield: Trindy Barkeim 18 kills, 5 digs; Cora Bicknese 4 assists, 39 digs; Jaelyn LaPlante 17 kills, 3 assists, 15 digs, 1 ace; Hannah Tweten 1 kill, 13 assists, 13 digs, 5 aces; Harper Goldsmith 8 kills, 34 assists, 17 digs, 1 block, 1 ace; Evy Goldsmith 14 kills, 1 block; Alexis Hinckley 6 digs; Kylin Schroeder 2 digs, 1 block; Charleigh Larson 1 kill, 4 digs, 6 blocks.
RROCHESTER — Caledonia wasn’t ready to be done.
Showing all kinds of resolve in the final two sets, the Warriors rallied for a five-set win Thursday night in the Section 1, Class 2A volleyball semifinals, beating Zumbrota-Mazeppa 21-25, 25-16, 20-25, 27-25, 15-6 at Mayo Civic Arena.
The match figured to be an epic one. No. 2 seed Caledonia entered ranked fifth in the state, while No. 3 seed Z-M was eighth.
Not only that, but they had a history. Earlier this season it was the same kind of grueling battle between the two. That one was also won by Caledonia, 3-2.
“We knew it would be a match like this, one that would likely end (in five sets),” said Caledonia coach Scott Koepke, whose team moved to 26-5. “Zumbrota-Mazeppa has a fabulous team. They are a tough team to play against because they flat-out blast the ball. And they just don’t ever stop coming.”
What Koepke fought to get across to his team was that it also needed to get moving. After looking messy in a first-set loss, then also dropping the third one, the Warriors were one set away from having their season end.
So Koepke looked his players in the eyes and told them to start battling like Z-M was.
They complied and none did it any better than Koepke’s daughter, senior Logan Koepke.
Providing one timely winning hit after another, she went a long way toward turning a 22-all tie in the fourth set to a 27-25 Caledonia win.
From there, it was all Warriors. They dominated the final set, earning a spot in Saturday’s championship match with No. 4 seed and defending state champion Cannon Falls.
A senior outside hitter, Koepke finished with 23 kills, 22 digs and 2 service aces. Emma Rommes also had a big night with 22 digs, 47 assists, 5 kills and 3 aces.
“I was just trying to keep my team together and not think about the outcome,” Koepke said. “Just think about what was in the present, like the next ball, the next play.”
That worked. Caledonia leaped out to an 8-2 lead in the deciding set and never lost its momentum.
Z-M, which finished its season 20-10 and had come into the night on a seven-match win streak, got 19 kills and 23 digs from Lilly Mehrkens. Ella Chandler added 18 kills and 14 digs and Megan Jasperson 13 kills and 28 digs.
Z-M coach Lisa Nelson appreciated how her team battled.
“We do have some gamers,” Nelson said.
Caledonia 3, Zumbrota-Mazeppa 2Zumbrota-Mazeppa #25#16#25#25#6Caledonia #21#25#20#27#15Zumbrota-Mazeppa: Lilly Mehrkens 19 kills, 3 assists, 23 digs; Cora Ohm 5 kills, 2 assists, 4 digs; Ella Chandler 18 kills, 14 digs, 1 ace; Megan Jasperson 13 kills, 4 assists, 28 digs, 1 ace; Paislee Peterson 32 assists, 18 digs; Anna Cylkowski 22 assists, 10 digs; Melanie Raasch 8 kills, 28 digs, 2 blocks.Caledonia: Emma Rommes 22 digs, 47 assists, 5 kills, 3 aces; Logan Koepke 23 kills, 22 digs, 2 aces; Braelyn Lange 6 kills, 1 block, 9 digs; Emme Kittelson 38 digs; Aubrie Klug 4 kills, 25 digs, 1 ace; Sienna Augedahl 4 kills, 5 digs; Kennedy Hansen 4 digs, 1 ace.