Hayley Fox made the most of her first state tournament appearance for St. Paul.
The 6-foot-1 senior, who missed the Wildcats’ previous state tournament because of an ACL injury, contributed with five of her match-high 28 kills in the fifth-set to help No. 5 St. Paul to a 24-26, 25-18, 25-17, 21-25, 15-9 win over No. 6 Syracuse on Thursday at Lincoln North Star.
The win puts them into the state semifinals against No. 2 Lincoln Lutheran at 1:30 p.m. Friday at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Fox said it felt good to get out on the floor and play but it felt better that the Wildcats won.
“I finally had the chance to play at state and it feels so awesome to contribute for my team,” Fox said. “It felt good to come back and win after five long sets.”
St. Paul coach Matt Koehn-Fairbanks said he was happy to see Fox have a great match. She had five kills to put St. Paul up 10-4 in the fifth set. He added that other players stepped up when she was not in the front row. Josie Jakubowski added 16 and Teegan Hansel chipped in 10.
“Hayley made the most of her opportunities to finally get her chance on this exact court at the exact same time slot when she had to sit in crutches two years ago,” he said. “She really owned the first part of that fifth set there. And then it was holding on for near life but we had other players step up.”
After seeing Syracuse fight back from a 20-15 deficit to win the first set, St. Paul’s serving began to take its toll. While getting only one ace serve in the first set, the Wildcats had nine more and many times had Syracuse scrambling to get into system.
That included a 6-0 fifth-set run from Grace Jerabek with an ace serve to give St. Paul that 10-4 lead. Paige Lukasiewicz had four ace serves, while Jerabek chipped in three.
“The passing game is so important in volleyball that they got out of system so many times, especially in that fifth set there,” Syracuse coach Courtney VanGroningen said. “It seemed to be that breaking point for us.”
After dropping the third set to go behind 2-1, Syracuse came back to take the fourth after falling behind 13-9. Lauren Meyer had five of her 17 kills, while Meredith Clark had four of her team-high 18 kills to help the Rockets take the set.
Koehn-Fairbanks said he was happy to see the Wildcats respond after Syracuse won the fourth.
“The girls did a great job of coming up with great plays at the end there,” he said. “I just told them that Syracuse earned that fourth set and we didn’t play that badly. This is what state volleyball is all about. One team has to respond, not watch the scoreboard and just play for each other and stay in the moment.”
With the win, St. Paul accomplished its goal of being able to hang another volleyball banner in its gym while guaranteeing to play two more matches. St. Paul finished fourth in 2008, but Fox wants to makes sure this time it’s a state championship banner.
“That felt nice to get this win to accomplish our goal, but it will feel nicer if we can get two more wins,” Fox said.
St. Paul (34-1) ……………………. 24 25 25 21 15
Syracuse (26-4) ………………….. 26 18 17 25 9
ST. PAUL (kills-aces-blocks) – Paige Lukasiewicz 0-4-0, Noel Roan 0-0-0, Grace Jerabek 0-3-0, Bree Carlson 0-0-0, Josie Jakubowski 16-1-0, Alexis Sack 4-2-0, Brooke Poppert 7-0-2, Hayley Fox 28-0-1, Olivia Poppert 3-0-2, Teegan Hansel 10-0-3.
SYRACUSE (kills-aces-blocks) – Brooke Snyder 0-1-0, Brooklyn Nordhues 0-0-0, Lauren Meyer 17-2-0, Jessica Moss 11-1-2, Lindsey Moss 1-0-0, Halle Wilhelm 0-0-1, Aubrey Kasbohm 3-0-0, Meredith Clark 18-0-5.
Set Assists – S: Snyder 44, Kasbohm 1, Clark 1. SP: O. Poppert 34, Jerabek 20, Lukasiewicz 2, Roan 2, Carlson 2.