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Volleyball: Volleyball bows out of tough section

Rosemount junior Natalie Busher registers a kill during last Wednesday's section tournament win over Simley.

There was no need to remind Rosemount volleyball coach Smokey Vitek what the Irish were up against heading into last week's Class 3A, Section 3 tournament.

With five teams ranked in the top 10 of the final regular season rankings, it's likely the toughest section in the state. The Irish had drawn the No. 7 seed in the 11-team tournament.

But it's nothing new for Rosemount.

Those five top-10 teams are part of the Irish's weekly regular season schedule in South Suburban Conference play. Of the 11 teams in the conference, only No. 10 seed Simley and No. 11 seed Park are outside of the South Suburban Conference.

Vitek and Rosemount are just used to the competition.

"I think we're kind of lucky in the South Suburban Conference to get good competition all year long, which is nice," Vitek said. "It pushes us and shows us how hard we have to play to beat teams comparable to what we face in the section. Here we are as the seven seed and it's a long hard road for us to get to the state tournament. We play state tournament matches all year long."

Faced with a non-conference opponent in the first round, the Irish advanced with a 3-0 win over Simley. However, the victory just set up Rosemount to face Bloomington Jefferson in the quarterfinals. The Irish's season ended with a 3-0 loss to the Jaguars, who were ranked No. 3 in the final coaches association poll.

"I thought we played well," Vitek said. "We went in very optimistic. We knew that it was a long shot and we were playing a good team. But I also know that if we brought our best game I thought we could be competitive with them and maybe come away with the win. We knew we had to play our best."

Just like Rosemount has to do every week in conference play.

But this time, the Irish suffered another 3-0 sweep against Bloomington Jefferson, just as they had during the regular season.

There was a difference in play, though. The first time the two teams met, the Jaguars won 25-19, 25-13, and 25-10. Rosemount showed more fight this time around, dropping the three games 25-19, 25-16 and 28-26.

Vitek appreciated the play of seniors Ali Fromme, Zoe Peterson and Elaine Warner, who led the Irish.

"Our three seniors all played terrific," Vitek said. "They all had great matches. I think the biggest issue with the match was our serve receive. From an offensive perspective, we played well. Cassie (Hansen) set up our hitters. She had a good match. Our hitters were smart, taking good swings when they had the chance. I thought we blocked really well. Where we struggled was on our serve receive. We struggled to get good passes. Unless you get good passes, it's tough to get points."

Despite the loss, Vitek felt the Irish were playing their best at the end of the season. The close two-point loss in game three against the Jaguars might have been the proof.

"I think we really came together as a team," Vitek said. "I think they realized that for us to win, we really needed to play as a team. We didn't have one big hitter to put the ball away. We were balanced and they knew they needed each other to win. We peaked at the right time of the season and finished on a positive note. It was a very fun match to watch."

Against Simley, Fromme, Peterson and Warner led the team with seven kills each. Warner added six blocks and Peterson had four blocks. Katie Duff had six kills and five service aces, while Jaclyn D'Amico had five kills and five service aces.

Hansen passed out 28 assists.

Jillian Blanc had a team-high eight digs.

"Going into any section match your nerves can be high, but I thought we came in and played steady," Vitek said. "We didn't know much about them, but we didn't let that bother us. We played our game and played really steady all the way through. We were determined and focused. We played a strong match and it was a good match to go into Jefferson with."