The Mabel-Canton Cougars played Caledonia in the East Sub-Section 1A title game last Thursday night, November 3, and came up short 3-0, ending the Cougars’ season with a 32-4 record. (Photo by Chad Smith)
Sports competition can present the most interesting dilemma. A team can walk onto the playing field or court and know way deep down that they could play the game of their lives and still lose the game. That was the situation facing the Mabel-Canton volleyball team as they played Caledonia on Thursday night, November 3rd, at the Mayo Civic Center in Rochester, for the East Sub-Section 1A championship.
The Cougars threw themselves at their opponent with everything they had but came up short at the end. Caledonia won by a 3-0 score (18-25, 19-25, 17-25). Fans of both squads knew it would be a good game and the state rankings agreed. Caledonia finished the regular season ranked at number five in the Class A top ten poll, and Mabel-Canton was in the eighth spot in the same poll.
Height would be a deciding factor in the match. Caledonia has six-foot players on the bench that don’t see the court in varsity action, and the six-foot front-liners who do see time had several inches on the smaller Cougar players on the other side of the net. Not only are the Warriors tall along the front line, they’re very athletic as well.
“We knew that we could play a great game against Caledonia and still get beat,” said Cougars long time coach Lonnie Morken. “Caledonia is that good. You don’t see a lot of size like that on high school volleyball teams. They have multiple six-footers on the bench that aren’t playing and we’re lucky to get a kid that’s five-foot-eight or five-nine.”
Mabel-Canton volleyball coach Lonnie Morken (standing right side, blue shirt) watches his team place Caledonia in the East Sub-Section 1A title game last Thursday night in the Mayo Civic Center. Caledonia would win the match 3-0. (Photo by Chad Smith
To counteract some of that size, the Cougars needed to be precise with their ball control. Morken said the team also needed to hit their spots from the service line and, for the most part, he said the Cougars did that.
“We did a decent job serving,” Morken said, “but still didn’t quite hit every spot we needed to. Certainly, tonight was all about how Caledonia played. It wasn’t about us playing badly, or them getting lucky because we played badly. They played well and they’re going to be a handful, as the winner of the next match (Hayfield) is going to have everything they can to beat them.”
The team went 54 of 56 from the service line for 96 percent efficiency. Payton Danielson went 12 for 13 at the line and Savannah Slafter was perfect at 11 for 11.
Morken said duplicating that kind of size is very difficult in practice. The coaches talk to the kids and try to prepare them as much as possible. The back row players will talk to the front row players during the match to call out potential open areas.
“For things to have gone well for us tonight,” Morken said, “we would have had to pass and set better. We also needed to terminate balls and we didn’t do that effectively, but that was more about what Caledonia was doing than what we weren’t doing.”
The attack starts in the back row, where the Cougars finished the match with 43 digs on the night. Kenidi McCabe had 11 digs and Coranda Vickerman added ten.
The Warrior bigs along the front line were also very quick and athletic. That made the matchup even tougher for the Cougars. Morken said the Warriors put in a lot of work on quickness and agility, along with lifting weights. That extra work is something Caledonia is known for.
That height really made it difficult for the Cougars to attack the net. Mabel-Canton wound up with 29 kills (101 attempts) and an uncharacteristic 16 errors. Slafter led the team with eight kills, with Dakota Delaney and Vickerman adding six each. McCabe assisted on 12 kills and Vickerman helped out on ten.
Morken and the team were both hoping to get farther into the playoffs. He said both Courtney Graves (four kills, three digs, three assists) and Coranda Vickerman (six kills, ten digs, ten assists) played well as seniors in their last game for the Cougars. It’s always tough to say goodbye to seniors at this time of year and Morken said it’s no different this season.
“They’ve been with us for a long time,” Morken said. “Coranda was a five-year varsity player and Courtney was a four-year varsity player. Before Senior Night (earlier in the regular season), I added up their win-loss totals over the last five years and it’s insane. It stinks right for them (Vickerman and Graves), but I’m hoping when they look back they’ll be able to say ‘gosh, we had a lot of success playing volleyball at Mabel-Canton,’ and remember more of the successes than tonight’s loss.”
He thought the team improved in a lot of areas over the course of the season. One of the biggest steps forward this team took was learning the mental toughness to overcome an 0-2 deficit in the previous match against Fillmore Central in the sub-section semifinals.
“I don’t know if we would have been tough enough last year to overcome an 0-2 deficit,” Morken said, “so we certainly showed the most growth there. Last year, we were all underclassmen. This year, we had two seniors, but we’re still really young. It can be tough to get eighth and ninth graders to believe and stay focused, so I think we improved the most with our mental toughness this year.”
Here are some video highlights from a busy night of volleyball in the Mayo Civic Center: