Nov. 4—ROCHESTER — That elusive state tournament isn't so elusive anymore for the Mabel-Canton volleyball team.
The Cougars, who prior to last season hadn't been to state since 2001, are now going in back-to-back seasons.
Mabel-Canton earned the right Saturday morning by playing possibly its best match of the season. The Cougars used the sterling performance to beat No. 3 seed and seventh-ranked Fillmore Central in straight sets in the Section 1, Class 1A championship match at Mayo Civic Arena.
Mabel-Canton, now 35-1 and ranked second in Class 1A, won 25-19, 25-22, 25-13. The Cougars did that after trailing midway through the first two sets.
But when a team has been taught the way M-C has under Hall of Fame coach Lonnie Morken, deficits are more inspiring than depressing.
For the Cougars, it's all about being mentally strong. That is drilled into all of them by Morken. He even has them read books about it.
"I think one of the biggest things is that we always believe in each other," M-C outside hitter Kailey Ingvalson said. "We could be down 24-1 and we'd still all believe in each other. That comes from Lonnie. He has always taught us to be very mentally tough and we are always working on that part of the game. I have improved so much there. I talk to myself. I tell myself, 'I got it.'"
The Cougars have "it," that is for sure.
They did pretty much everything well against the Falcons, who were seeing M-C for the first time this season. The Cougars were especially strong on defense, putting up a strong block and seemingly digging up everything.
And when it came to their offense, coach's daughter Sahara Morken was there to set the whole thing up. The junior All-State setter finished with 31 assists, finding a variety of hitters to put things away. Kinley Soiney had 14 kills, Hope Erickson and Saijal Slafter seven each, and Ingvalson six.
So much of that good and efficient stuff came after Fillmore Central had strong starts in the first two sets. The Falcons led 12-9 midway through the first set only to see the Cougars go on a game-changing 9-2 scoring run.
In the second set, it was the same thing. There, M-C went from down 16-13 to suddenly connecting every which way and outscoring the Falcons 12-6 the rest of the way.
Deficits don't seem to phase the Cougars. They fire them up.
"We just played relentless defense," coach Morken said. "Except for some early errors in the first and second sets, we played to perfection. I never dreamed we'd sweep a team as good as Fillmore Central. Our kids have a belief that no matter how we start off sets, we are going to come back. We talk about that all the time at practice and we read all of this stuff about it. Our theme is to attack any challenge we have. It is so important."
Fillmore Central coach Travis Malley tipped his hat to the play of Mabel-Canton. The Cougars' excellence, combined with what he considered less-than-normal play by his team, made it a one-sided affair in the end.
"They just outplayed us today," said Malley, whose Falcons finished 23-8 overall. "Their serve and pass game was better than ours. We just couldn't get anything rolling."
Mabel-Canton, meanwhile, is rolling — to the state tournament. It's a team with high hopes, having lost just once this season.
It's also a team that figures to have a great chance next year to make it three consecutive state trips. There isn't a senior on this 2023 roster.
"It's so special to be going back to state," said Slafter, one of seven juniors on the team. "We are all speechless at this point, that we pulled it off another year."
And will they pull it off again next year?
To that, Slafter issued a reminder.
"We've got a lot of juniors," she said with a smile.
Mabel-Canton 3, Fillmore Central 0
Fillmore Central: Kyla Hellickson 2 assists, 22 digs; Ella Dahly 6 kills, 5 digs, 2 blocks; Lily Miller 11 digs, 2 aces; Brooklyn Simon 1 kill; Izabelle Nagel 4 kills, 1 dig; Aubrey Daniels 1 kill, 13 assists, 12 digs; Kathryn Pickett 17 assists, 8 digs, 1 ace; Kammry Broadwater 10 kills, 7 digs, 1 block; Alyssa Britton 4 kills, 1 dig, 2 blocks; Annika Mensink 8 kills, 2 digs, 1 block.
Mabel-Canton: Kinley Soiney 14 kills; Saijal Slafter 7 kills; Hope Erickson 7 kills; Kailey Ingvalson 6 kills; Sahara Morken 31 assists.