Volleyball: Ponies fall to defending state champs

Stillwater junior Brooke Aschenbrener hits past three Eagan blockers in Game 3 of a 3-2 nonconferencee volleyball loss to the two-time defending state champions on Tuesday, Sept. 5 at Stillwater Area High School. (Gazette staff photo by Stuart Groskreutz)

OAK PARK HEIGHTS — Stillwater responded to each surge, but two-time defending state champion Eagan outlasted the Ponies for a 3-2 nonconference volleyball victory in front of a charged crowd on Tuesday, Sept. 5 at Stillwater Area High School.

The top-ranked Wildcats remained undefeated this season, prevailing by scores of 25-22, 19-25, 27-25, 21-25 and 15-12.

“Of course we wanted to win the match and we knew it would be a real battle of wills, back-and-forth,” Ponies coach Bob Fisher said. “We know we can play right with the best teams in the state. If we go out and play Stillwater volleyball, we can play with anybody and I think that was proven — but the carrot is still out there. We’re still striving to get better. It was just a fun match.”

Stillwater returns several key contributors from a team that advanced to the section finals a year ago, but many outside of the team expected a big drop off after talented 6-foot-4 sophomore Maddie Whittington suffered a season-ending knee injury this summer. The seventh-ranked Ponies (2-2) showed resilience in that wake of that news and never wavered in the battle with Eagan (3-0). The Ponies also played well in a five-set, season-opening loss to reigning state runner-up and third-ranked Champlin Park on Aug. 26.

Stillwater junior Reece Koehler tips the ball over Eagan blocker McKenna Melville during a nonconference volleyball match on Tuesday, Sept. 5 at Stillwater Area High School. The top-ranked Wildcats pulled out a 3-2 victory. (Gazette staff photo by Stuart Groskreutz)

This match featured plenty of strong hitting and defense from both sides to keep points alive.

“It was a lot of fun,” Fisher said. “It was two good teams pounding on each other and neither one was going to quit. They’re a good team, there’s no doubt about it. It was fun to get a match where you just go back and forth like that.”

Rachel Houle totaled 17 kills and fellow senior Kayla Gjerde added 16 kills to lead the Stillwater attack. Junior Reece Koehler also contributed 10 kills for the Ponies, who also recorded nine blocks.

“We out-blocked them, which was an accomplishment,” Fisher said. “They run a real fast offense and made our blockers work very hard.”

Junior Brooke Aschenbrener finished with one solo block and seven block assists while Houle added five block assists.

There was plenty of drama at the end of the decisive third game. Eagan opened up a 24-21 lead, but the Ponies scored four straight points to pull ahead 25-24. After stopping the run to even the score, the Wildcats won the next two points to move ahead 2-1 in the match.

Stillwater answered with a victory in Game 4.

“We showed a lot of character and resilience in that fourth game,” Fisher said.”

Eagan jumped out to a 7-1 lead in the fifth game, but the Ponies stormed back to pull within 12-11. The Wildcats did not panic and won three of the next four points to seal the hard-fought victory.

“We just played really well,” Fisher said. “All the girls see even better things coming down the road. We see things we can improve.

“One of the girls said we’ve only played together for three weeks, so we’re still getting to know each other — and the chemistry on this team is fantastic.”

Junior Olivia Walsh finished with 47 set assists against Eagan.

“She has more than 150 in four matches,” Fisher said.

Junior Britta Borrman led the Ponies with 24 digs.

“That’s a nice number when they’re banging the ball at you that hard,” Fisher said.

Gjerde contributed 15 digs and sophomore Elle Sprenger added 14.

Stillwater finished with five ace serves.

“For as aggressively as we served that speaks to how good Eagan’s defense is, and I think they’d say the same about us,” Fisher said.

• The big crowd on hand provided a rousing environment for the teams, but also produced 449 pounds of non-perishable food items Valley Outreach. Attendees were admitted free with a donation.

“That’s pretty good for the day after Labor Day,” Fisher said.

Stillwater 3, Elk River 2

At Elk River, the Ponies rallied from a 2-1 deficit to defeat Elk River 3-2 in a nonconference battle on Thursday, Aug. 31. Stillwater won by scores of 19-25, 25-19, 16-25, 25-15 and 15-9.

“We jumped out in Game 5 and never looked back,” Ponies coach Bob Fisher said. “They were a very good team. They’ve already played some very good matches and they’re going to be a team that will far in sections.”

Junior Lexi Oletjen paced Stillwater with 12 kills while Kayla Gjerde finished with 11 kills and Rachel Houle added 10.

Junior Brooke Aschenbrener totaled seven block assists.

Olivia Walsh provided 50 set assists while Britta Borrman added 19 digs.

“They were a good blocking team and really made us work,” Fisher said.

Contact Stuart Groskreutz at [email protected]