Anyone in need of a good mentor only has to go as far as the Pipestone Area Schools gymnasium. The PAS volleyball team, which boasts 11 talented seniors, could certainly be the poster club for hard work, as the sub-Section South champion Arrows swept past North titlist Paynesville (21-6) by scores of 25-12, 25-17 and 25-17 Saturday night at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall to advance to the Class AA state tournament for the first time since the 2006-07 campaign.
The Arrows have yet to drop a set in the postseason, sweeping their way through the sub-Section South tournament before handling the Bulldogs with relative ease. With the victory, the un-seeded Arrows advance to Thursday’s AA state quarterfinals at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, where they’ll square off against the second-seeded Cannon Falls Bombers (26-7).
And on the back of an adversity-filled campaign in 2021, this senior-laden Arrow side was quick to draft its credo on the benefits of hard work.
“Absolutely,” Pipestone Area head coach Dave Dulas said following his Arrows’ sweep of the Bulldogs. “These girls have worked hard all year long and this has been our goal all year long…our mindset all year long! That’s been the biggest key, making this their mindset, and they came out and did it.”
Despite the obvious nerves heading into a tilt they haven’t been close to competing in several seasons, the Arrows jumped all over the Bulldogs from the onset, focusing on getting a good block up against Paynesville go-to senior outside hitter Kyleigh Tangen (eight kills, 15 digs).
“We knew #11 was their strong hitter and we worked on that a little bit in practice…pushing over to cover it better because we’d struggled with it,” said senior middle Arinn McGee (six kills), who teamed up with outside hitter Meredith Draper for seven blocks in the match.
“We were definitely trying to get tighter together so they couldn’t hit through it,” added Draper (five kills). “We focused on following her arm; wherever her arm goes, we were going go…be there to block it.”
Not only did the Arrows’ block force Paynesville to shift its sets elsewhere, mainly toward junior outside Emma Flanders (five kills), it covered those net jousts as well.
“They had strong outsides, so we really needed that block tonight; that was awesome,” said PAS senior outside Kayla Hubbling, who finished with a ‘quiet’ nine kills and two block assists.
“We didn’t see Kayla as much, probably because me and Arinn were doing such a good job at the net; she just wasn’t able to rotate in as much,” noted twin sister Kyla Hubbling, who finished with five kills and two block assists.
With the score knotted at 8-all in the opening set, it was Kyla Hubbling’s rocket down the left line that sparked a 10-0 Arrow run. Kyla Hubbling added a second kill during the march, while the aforementioned block and an additional counter from McGee lifted the sub-Section South champs to an 18-8 lead.
“The line was open a lot, so we looked to go there when we could,” Kayla Hubbling said.
“And they also left some holes in the back row that we found, especially in the second set,” added Kyla Hubbling.
With the outcome of the first set all but cemented, the Arrows used the garnered momentum to claim an early 6-2 lead in the second.
“Winning that first set 25-12 definitely gave us more energy and a big confidence boost moving forward,” Draper said. “Not knowing what this team was like, getting off to a good start brought a lot of excitement to it on our side.”
And despite facing added pressure from the Bulldogs’ hitters in what proved to be the middle set, the PAS defense dug just about everything sent toward its side of the hardwood.
“They were all over it and I cannot express how proud I am of everyone on this team,” McGee said. “Hard work pays off. We knew we just had to come out and play our game.
“That’s exactly what our motto has been; we knew we had it if we played our match. Even if it (the match) was going to go to five (sets), we were playing it until the fifth set as over. And watching R-T-R lose (in the 3A title tilt), and seeing their girls crying afterward, was big motivation – right there.”
Although the Bulldogs managed to knot the score at 12-all midway through the second set, the Arrows never looked rattled. Senior setter Megan Lingen (28 set assists, 13 digs) simply became more precise with her sets, dishing up tasty treats for Kayla Hubbling, Draper and senior middle Aubrea Kor (four kills, block) to deliver across the net.
“They were really good tonight and that always helps our hitters at the net,” Draper said.
“And all hits come from great passes, so you have to hand it to our players in the back,” added Kayla Hubbling.
More often than not, senior libero Melody Remund (24 digs) opened the Arrows’ transition game with a dig/pass to Megan Lingen. And when they weren’t keeping the Bulldogs’ back row off balance with their knuckling serves, senior defensive specialists Callie Lingen (11 digs) and Tegan Tuinstra (five digs) followed suit with sharp passes to the Arrows’ playmaker.
“This has been our goal for so long and we wanted it really bad,” Megan Lingen said. “Especially since it’s our last season, all of us are seniors, we had to make it the best.
“The back row was amazing tonight…going for everything. They’ve worked so hard and were so focused on not letting anything hit the floor tonight. It was awesome.”
With two sets in the bag, the Arrows let up a skosh – allowing the Bulldogs a moment of belief.
“I think we came out in that third set a little too confident,” Coach Dulas said. “Once they refocused, they settled back down and started playing their game. We knew they were going to go to Tangen, so we keyed on her; that helped us out in a big way. We knew they were going to get their swings in, but as long as we played our game, played our defense, get our hitters up for good swings on the ball, I knew our girls would get the job done.”
And after falling behind 8-2 in the third, the Arrows did just that. Kayla Hubbling sparked a six-point run with a blistering effort from the left side, and Draper added to the PAS fire with a solo block and subsequent kill off an attempt from Flanders. Substitute defender Brynn Manzey also lent a hand in halting the Bulldogs’ progress, while senior hitter Madelyn Wiese kept Paynesville honest with a solid serving.
“They gained more experience tonight and that’s only going to help us at the state tournament,” Megan Lingen said. “We have a lot of talent on this team, every one of us can play and we saw that tonight. Hopefully, we can keep it going and keep playing ‘our game.’”
Paynesville was able to claim one more lead, 9-8, through a PAS net violation, but following a cross-court winner from Draper on the right side, the Arrows sent the Bulldogs back to their collective crate with a relentless and punishing attack.
Kayla Hubbling put the finishing touches on the match with an angry punch to the floor, and the Arrow bench dogpiled the six players on the floor with tears of joy in their eyes.
“It’s awesome, hard to describe it,” said Kayla Hubbling.
And for many in the stands, some of whom don’t often get the opportunity to watch the matches live, the Arrows’ march to the state tournament demonstrated just how tight this group has become.
“It was so much fun to watch these Arrows play,” said former Arrow player, head coach and recent Pipestone-Jasper Athletic Hall of Fame inductee Jamie (Claussen) Juhl. “It’s been so long since they’ve been up to the state tournament and what a great group of girls. My last time in Pipestone was when they were eighth-graders and it’s been so much fun to watch them continue to grow over the years they’ve been together. What a great feat for them to earn a trip to the state tournament.”
And as the Arrows look to take down the Bombers at 3 p.m. Thursday in St. Paul, one of only five teams to have beaten PAS this fall, Coach Dulas is quick to offer the same guidance he began the season with.
“This has been our goal all year long and we did it playing our match, our volleyball,” he said. “I couldn’t ask for a better group of girls to do this with, and my assistant coaches Jen Evans and Morgan Taubert have been awesome. I’m so proud of everyone who has been part of this season. We just have to continue to play our match and…have fun!”
Sub-Section 3AA finals
PAS 3, Windom 0
Outside of advancing to the Section 3AA championship tilt with a 25-18, 25-12, 25-12 sweep of the Windom Eagles Thursday night in Worthington, the Arrows saw stalwart setter Megan Lingen eclipse the 1,000-set assist mark for her career.
“It’s insane; I was shocked because I had no idea I was that close, after reaching 800 earlier,” said Megan Lingen, who finished with 30 set assists and 10 digs in the match. “I was so nervous for this match, so getting 1,000 sets in this match is awesome.”
The Eagles, who concluded their campaign at 19-11, appeared to forget Kyla Hubbling was as good a hitter as the rest of the PAS net players. She finished with a team-high 13 kills on the night and was as shocked as anyone that she, basically, had free rein from the left side.
“I don’t know if they forgot about me or what, but I just came in with a lot of energy and picked things up,” she said. “We were all excited to play this match and it showed right away; taking that first set was big for us.”
And the Arrows just rolled from there, again playing their brand of volleyball to a ‘T.’
Draper added seven kills, mostly from the right side, while Kayla Hubbling (six kills), McGee and Kor finished with four kills apiece.
Remund was a defensive standout, finishing with a team-high 17 digs, while Kyla Hubbling and Callie Lingen added nine and seven digs to the stat book. Tuinstra was 8-of-8 from behind the service line and finished with four digs, and Kyla Hubbling (9-for-9) and Remund (7-for-7) were also perfect with their serving.