The Arrows didn’t win a state tournament Saturday in Fairmont; they didn’t lose one either.
Pipestone Area’s initial fray of the 2023-24 volleyball campaign wasn’t without its head-scratching moments and heavy sighs, but it also came with ah-ha moments and set the barometer for rising to new highs as the season progresses.
“They pretty much got beaten by speed today,” said Pipestone Area head coach Dave Dulas of his Arrows’ 25-7, 25-6, 25-12 loss to the St. Peter Saints at the weekend’s Big South Conference showcase. “I thought we had better hitting than we showed today, and it didn’t help that we lost a setter right away. That screwed us up being short in that rotation and not being able to work through that process.”
Although the Arrows proved more out of sync with the departure of junior setter Samantha Radloff (two set assists) in the second set, due to a banging of heads with a teammate, the Arrows were on the back foot from the get-go against an extremely formidable Saints side that returned several members from last year’s squad that posted a record of 19-6 in AAA action. The Saints ripped off seven consecutive points to open the match before PAS sophomore hitter/setter Jadyn Kor (two kills) could go cross court off the block to earn the Arrows a sideout.
Brynn Schulze scored with a tip off the ensuing serve to pull PAS to within a handful of markers, but the Saints came back with another run of 10 points before the Arrows could make another small dent – via a back-row kill off the swing of leading hitter Taryn Tuinstra (three kills, three digs). Tuinstra would also notch a marker from the right side before the Saints capped the opener with a five-point run.
The Arrows did well to stay within reach of the Saints in the opening stages of what proved to be the middle set, as junior outside hitter Mariah Moeller (two kills) tallied a pair of points with a well-placed tip and a cross-court winner from the right side.
The defensive efforts of junior libero Mylee Weber (eight digs) and freshman back-row specialist Kaysa Douty prevented the Saints from posting prolific numbers of consecutive points in the second set, but struggles with receiving serve did little to aid sophomore setter Carmen Wiese (four set assists) – in relief of Radloff.
“They just need to relax; they came out extremely excited and nervous, and their blood’s pumping,” Dulas said. “We just had to come out and relax; and it’ll take a couple more matches like this for them to be able to relax and push past the nerves. They’ll get there, and they’ll be okay.”
The Arrows settled into the match better in the third set. However, offense was still hard to come by as the experience and size-advantaged Saints covered the court extremely well. The Arrows proved best from the right side and through back-row sets to Kor and Tuinstra, respectively, while Schulze and fellow middle blocker Kendra Olberding tried to keep their heads on a swivel in the midst of punishing punches from the Saints’ talented swingers.
In the end, there were questions – the same uttered by many coaches of young, inexperienced clubs after their opening matches.
“That’s what we talked about in our huddle at the end of the game,” Dulas said. “Where are we going from here? What’s our mindset going to be? Are we going to come back into the gym on Monday and work hard or are we just going to give up? We’re not going to give up after one match; we have things to improve on, so we’ll go from there.”
The Arrows will open their Big South Conference schedule Thursday night at home, when they host the Worthington Trojans.