Team wearing medals

With a game one loss to TCU, the Cleveland varsity girls began the Waterville tournament as flat as a flour tortilla, but as an early fall Saturday morning stretched into afternoon, the Clippers rose like an angel food cake, all the way to the top, beating perennial power WEM 2-1 in a pool-play thriller before stunning Nova Classical Academy 2-0 in the tournament championship.

It was the first time the Clippers have won the WEM tournament since they first entered it, back in 2011.

Nova, a 2A club, which at last year’s tourney beat the Clippers in pool play and again in the championship, is an especially a heavy hitter. While they have defeated 3A schools Cretin-Derham Hall, Visitation, and DeLaSalle so far this season, their only other loss was to state fourth-ranked Belle Plaine.

“Everyone had to play well, and I thought we did that” said head coach Dave Nixon. “We knew we had to key on outside hitter Ava Ball. She was an All-State hitter last year as a sophomore and will be a Division 1 player. She is as good a hitter as we have in the state. If you’re not there, on the block or dig, you’re not touching it, but we did a good job of keying on her.”

A pair of Melia Sathoff kills put the Clipper in front 3-1 in the first game against Nova. With punishing hits, Ball kept the Knights in the contest, but the game ended 25-18 on an Ava Hahn kill.

Ava Hahn’s cross-court hit for a winner was the first point in game two, but Nova kept up and took a 16-13 lead when the Clippers hit the ball into the net.

Laci Hollerich responded with a clever push deep into the right-side corner for a point. Later, Nova lost control of a couple of hits, and Ava Hahn took a pass from her sister Greta Hahn and whacked it down for a winner to stalemate the game at 18.

The lead pendulumed down the stretch. Nova followed a kill with an ace serve for a two-point advantage, but Geta Hahn pushed over an ace, and with a Knight hit out of bounds and a kill from eighth grader Anika Sathoff, the Clipper were in front 21-20.

On an ace block and a Clipper hit into the fence, Nova went up by a point, but Melia Sathoff thundered a kill, and a Knight return hung up in the webbing for a 24-22 Clipper lead.

Nova struck with a kill and then sent over an ace serve that caught the Clippers looking for a 24-22 advantage. But Melia Sathoff’s kill kept Nova at bay, and Greta Hahn sent a serve to the front court that Nova ricocheted around like a pinball before it fell safely backwards for the Clipper triumph.

“I knew it was going to be a short serve right away, but I didn’t know if it was going to go over,” said Hahn.

In pool play, the Clippers fell in their first game against TCU 25-23. It ended when the Clippers blocked a Titan tip out of bounds.

“We’re not a morning team,” said Nixon.

But Hollerich’s ace block was the first point of game two and set the tone. The set ended 25-14 on a Melia Sathoff attack. 

Not looking back, the Clippers easily won the rubber game, 15-6. Hollerich had an ace block, a pair of kills, an ace tip and ace serve before Greta Hahn scored twice on fake sets and Anika Sathoff dropped down a hit.

“The first game was a little rocky,” said Greta Hahn, “but I think after that we knew if we want to be here, we have to start playing well.”

Minnesota Valley Lutheran, a 2A club like Tri-City, went in front 3-0 in the first game of the second round of pool play, but Ava Hahn followed an ace tip with a kill for the Clippers’ first points. With the game tied at nine, the Clippers broke away and won 25-13 on a Greta Hahn ace serve.

Continuing where she left off, Greta Hahn jetted another ace serve to start game two against the Chargers. Her sister followed with a kill from behind the back line, and the Clippers were off to the races. After a Melia Sathoff kill, the game ended 25-12 with an MVL hit out of bounds.

WEM doesn’t have much in the height department, but they always seemed to be in the right spots for a return, making it hard on the Clipper offense. But with a back-to-back ace blocks off the hands of Hollerich, the Clippers got a good start in game one of the third round of pool play, and with the Buccaneers having trouble keeping their hits inside the boarder, the Clippers took a 10-7 lead.

But the Clippers had issues with the net, and the Bucs took over 14-13 before Hollerich slammed a kill and tipped over an ace. Ava Hahn stretched for an ace block to stalemate the game at 15. It was pretty much WEM the rest of the way though. A Jocelyn Bartell kill was the last point for Cleveland, and the game ended 25-17 after three-straight Buccaneer kills.

Nixon said that the Clippers’ energy level wasn’t high, and everyone in the front and on the back and the bench too had to be encouraging.

“We weren’t playing that great, committing way too many errors. We had to work through that and keep playing. There are times when you get flat and you get quiet, but that is when you’ve got to talk even more.”

Keeping their momentum, the Bucs scored the first five points of game two, and it looked like they would sweep the Clippers when a pair of kills put them comfortably out front 18-11.

But Ava Hahn said enough of that and laid down four-straight kills to start a nine-point Clipper spurt. Delaney Thompson packaged an ace serve, Ava Hahn swatted another kill, and with a Bartell ace block and a couple of WEM hits out of bounds, the Clippers were suddenly out front 20-18.

“We started off rocky again but all decided to put our puzzle pieces together, and we got it down,” said Greta Hahn.

“With Ava serving and Delaney serving, we got into a system,” Nixon said. “Our serving and hitting got them scrambling so they couldn’t do what they wanted. Our defense is going to keep us in a lot of games, but we’ve got to keep battling offensively.”

WEM managed another kill, but Ava Hahn continued on the warpath with a kill and service ace. After a Melia Sathoff kill, Ava Hahn punctuated her outstanding effort with another ace serve for a 25-19 comeback win.

Melia Sathoff’s kill was the first point in game three. After a couple of Ava Hahn kills and a Greta Hahn ace tip, the Clippers went up 11-4 when the Bucs shanked an Ava Hahn serve.

But a strong WEM server kept the Clippers out of rhythm, and the Bucs went on an eight-point run for a 12-11 advantage before serving out of bounds. But again, the Clippers didn’t toss in the towel. Melia Sathoff scored a point on a kill, Sophie Perkins dispatched a service ace, and the game ended 15-12 when the Bucs hit into the net.   

It might have been hard to keep the intensity after that match when the Clippers took on Cathedral in the first round of bracket play, but they still won the first game 25-18 before demolishing the Greyhounds 25-7 in game two.

Nixon said he went into the tournament expecting to wear medals on the bus ride home, and the Clippers did.

“That’s what we talked about, that was our goal because we feel we’re at that level to compete with these teams, and the girls did a great job just battling through whatever was in front of them.”

Ava Hahn finished the day with 44 kills, six set assists, one solo ace block, two ace block assists and 52 digs. She was 34 of 39 from the service line and had six ace serves

Melia Sathoff had 32 kills, one set assist, 10 digs, three ace block assists and landed 20 of her 33 serves with six of them aces.

Savannah Meyer scraped 68 digs, propped up four set assists and only missed two of 54 serves with five of them aces.

Greta Hahn set up 88 points. She also had 11 kills and 28 digs. She completed 51 of 54 serves with four of them aces.

Hollerich swung for 15 kills and had four solo ace blocks and four ace block assists. She set up one point, scooped eight digs and was 19 for 20 from the serving line with one ace.

Perkins had two kills, one set assist, one dig and four assisted ace blocks. She was perfect in her 24 serves with one of them an ace.

Chloe Anderson hoisted 16 digs and passed for two assists. She made three of her four serves.

Maya Lassiter uncoiled two kills and made one dig. Her only serve was in play.

Anika Sathoff had seven kills and made one set assist, five digs and three assisted ace blocks. She was 13 of 15 from behind the serving line with one ace.  

Bartell had four kills, eight digs, one set assist, one solo ace block and two assisted ace blocks.  

All 23 of Thompson’s serves were in bounds with two of them aces. She had two set assists and eight digs.

Mariah McCabe had six digs while Lacey McCabe had five digs. Lilly Lamont had one set assist and two digs.

The Clippers traveled to Lake Crystal on Tuesday.

Above: Winning the WEM tournament was a team effort. It includes, from L-R, front row: Anika Sathoff, Delaney Thompson, Chloe Anderson, Greta Hahn, Savannah Meyer, Ava Hahn, Lacey McCabe, Mariah McCabe and Lilly Lamont. Back row: Head coach Dave Nixon, Melia Sathoff, Laci Hollerich, Sophie Perkins, Maya Lassiter, Jocelyn Bartell, Addi Holden, assistant coach Ellie Johnson and assistant coach Bree Meyer.

The Clippers celebrate after winning the tournament championship.

Maya Lassiter stretches to block a NUC hit.

Lilly Lamont hoists up a Cathedral serve.

Greta Hahn in hand-to-hand combat with a Nova hitter.

Melia Sathoff on the set during the match against Tri-City.

Savannah Meyer receives a TCU serve.

Middle hitter Anika Sathoff blocks an MVL hit.

Greta Hahn on the bump set.

Laci Hollerich reaches for a block. Beside her is Sophie Perkins.

Ava Hahn rides the ball down the net during the win over WEM.

Middle hitter Jocelyn Bartell reaches for a block during the match against WEM.