Once Winona State flexed its muscle, it was over.
Minnesota Crookston had cut an 11-1 Warrior lead in the third set to just 15-10. Just as they had done in the two previous sets, the Golden Eagles hung around long enough to make Winona State break a sweat.
But it was all for naught. After a lengthy rally, a Warrior outside hitter smashed a kill into the right corner, setting the tone for the remainder of the game.
Winona State finished off the set and the match, with a three-set win to spoil Minnesota Crookston’s Senior Day on Saturday at Lysaker Gymnasium.
The Warriors took the first two sets, 25-17, and the final set 25-16.
The Golden Eagles fell to 4-22 overall and 2-16 in NSIC play, while Winona State improved to 20-6 and 12-6.
Porsha Porath led Minnesota Crookston with six kills, while Deaira Gresham added four kills and a block. Sydney Kruisselbrink had 12 assists and 11 digs, and Katie Lienemann led in digs with 13.
“Our conference is ridiculously hard,” said Minnesota Crookston coach Sarah Rauen. “We play ranked teams every weekend, and just showing that not only can we play with them but we can beat them. We’ve taken sets off of good teams earlier in the year, and now’s the time to take the next step.”
That time wasn’t Saturday afternoon, however. The Warriors jumped to an 18-10 lead before the Golden Eagles battled back to take seven of the next 11 points, getting within five. Winona State closed out the set shortly after, however.
The second set was more of the same. Minnesota Crookston stayed even with the Warriors in the early going, before surrounding a 9-4 run to end the second set and put the Golden Eagles up against the ropes.
When the third set began, it finally appeared as if Winona State would put the clamps down for good.
“When somebody comes out and makes you go down like we did we know that we're capable of a lot more than that,” Rauen said. “So I think it was just us having a little bit of pride and realizing that we're way better volleyball players like that.”
Minnesota Crookston ran off six straight points midway through the third, but in the blink of an eye, the Warriors scored seven of the next 10 thanks to five kills.
That, in essence, was the story of the game — the difference in caliber between the two teams. When the Golden Eagles found success, it was mostly due to Winona State errors, but the Warriors made fewer errors and thus controlled the game throughout.
Winona State registered 42 kills to 20 for Minnesota Crookston, and 54 points compared to 24. It also had seven aces and five blocks, while the Golden Eagles recorded just two of each.
“They've got a good deep lineup so they brought a lot of balls back,” Rauen said. “We made them make some substitions, and they came right back at us. We were prepared for them, we just didn't execute.”
Saturday marked the final home game for the Golden Eagles' five seniors: Meli Rodriguez, Kaitlin Sikkink, Alyssa Thomas, Sabrina Leuer and Ali Schueler.
Minnesota Crookston finishes its season on the road next weekend, with games at Concordia St. Paul and Minnesota State on Friday and Saturday, respectively.