Mavericks march to South final

ST. JAMES – “Balanced.”

Martin County West mentor Mary Sussenguth succinctly summed up her Maverick volleyball lineup’s three-game playoff sweep on Tuesday night in one word.

Setter Kennedy Janssen distributed 36 assists, middle hitter Kate Thiesse drilled 14 kills and four blocks to pace a diversified attack, while Autumn Smith tallied 16 service points to steer the Mavericks to a 25-13, 25-20, 25-20 triumph over the United South Central Rebels in St. James.

No. 1-seeded Martin County West (24-6) advances to face No. 2-seeded and Valley Conference rival Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial (26-4) at 6 p.m. Thursday night at Mankato West High School for the Section 2A, South Sub-Section championship. The Knights rallied for a 25-27, 18-25, 25-20, 25-18, 15-10 victory over No. 3-seeded Windom Area.

No. 4-seeded United South Central ended its season with a 14-14 record.

“As usual, all of our players contributed to the win tonight,” said Sussenguth.

Indeed. After McKenna Taylor’s sideout kill off a Janssen assist countered Rebel middle hitter Anissa Janzig’s Game 1 opening kill, Maverick backrow specialist Molly Klima assembled a momentum-turning nine-point service run.

Thiesse utilized her pogo stick-like vertical leap to jackhammer two kills and two blocks to trigger the offensive avalanche.

Janzig, who topped USC’s frontline attack with a baker’s dozen worth of kills and a match-high eight blocks, used a precision tip to halt the run at 10-2.

The Mavericks maintained their wide margin through the next dozen individual rotations before outside hitter Hailey Leiding highlighted the beginning of the end.

Leiding, who delivered 10 kills, later smacked a sizzling cross-court winner off a Janssen loft to rotate Smith back to the end line with a 23-13 lead. Smith served out the final two points to seal the 12-point Game 1 victory.

Despite Janzig’s dominating performance in the air space above the net that ignited USC teammate Lizzy Leland’s early four-point service run in Game 2, Thiesse countered by drilling Janssen’s quick set to the floor for a pivotal sideout with MCW trailing 5-2.

Once again, Smith proved the Mavericks’ catalyst from the service area, assembling a seven-point run to transform a 6-3 deficit into a 10-6 edge. Outside hitter Jordan Gregory pounded out three of her 11 kills on the match to engineer Smith’s serving stint.

Leiding later scorched a down-the-line spike for a winner before Gregory’s kill held off USC’s late comeback bid at 25-20.

Defensive specialist Haley Jensen then delivered three key service points during Game 3 to help MCW create separation on the scoreboard at 9-5.

Thiesse pounded down back-to-back kills to help rotate Smith to the line again, and the senior standout generated five pivotal points to help the Mavericks build a 15-6 edge.

Janzig, however, fired back from the frontline as teammates Leland and Taylor Steckelberg served up two points each to eventually narrow USC’s gap from 22-11 to 24-20, but an errant Rebel serve sealed MCW’s 25-20 Game 3 win and match sweep.

Smith completed 19 of 20 serves for 16 points for the Mavericks to complement 14 digs, while Klima generated 11 points behind 15-for-17 serving to go with eight digs. Jensen added 11-for-12 serving with six points to complement six digs.

Bailey Olson, Tara Bauman and Steckelberg each supplied three kills for the Rebels.