St. Mary's entered the Class A state tournament with match experience against every other tourney qualifier. Except Fargo South.
The Saints soon learned that to beat South means to shut down the Bruins' stud sophomore Emily Stroup. Or at least contain her. Scratch that, at least try to control her.
The six-rotation Bruin finished with 29 kills and added 13 assists and 10 digs for a triple-double.
St. Mary's senior outside hitter Mary Roller attempts a spike in front of Fargo South's Carly Melander during the first round of the Class A state tournament Thursday at the Minot State University Dome.
But the Saints had the last laugh, advancing to the state semifinals with a 27-25, 25-19, 26-28, 25-20 power-outage-interrupted victory Thursday evening at the Minot State University Dome.
"She's pretty amazing," St. Mary's coach Amy Heuer said. "We had a really tough time handling her.
"She can move her hits around so much. We would block line, she would nail them cross; we'd block cross, she'd nail them line. She's just really good at reading the block and knowing where it is and knowing how to avoid it."
St. Mary's (24-9), the West Region No. 1 seed, plays Century at 8 tonight, with the winner advancing to the state championship. South takes on East Region foe Fargo Davies in a 2 p.m. consolation match.
Stroup had nine kills in the third set, which was suspended after eight points due to a 68-minute power outage.
When the light came back on, the Bruins went to the Stroup on nearly every point - from the right or left, front or back row. She helped South cheat death with a kill that fended off the first of St. Mary's two match points. Then she blasted a massive kill down the right sideline to put the Bruins ahead 27-26 and followed it up with an ace on set point.
Heuer admitted Stroup gave the Saints fits especially in the third frame, but so did the stoppage of play.
"The power outage sure threw us out of our groove, though," she said. "It took us a set-and-a-half to get used to the building and the ceiling and just when we started to get used to it the power happened."
The Bruins fought out to a 15-13 advantage in the fourth game, but St. Mary's ran off five straight points for the final lead change. Stroup had five kills in the fourth stanza. St. Mary's senior outside hitter Mary Roller said her team's balanced attack allowed the Saints to overcome the Bruins' star.
"It gives us a lot more options because if one player's not playing very well, we have a lot of other players to help us out," said Roller, who had 13 kills.
"We just had to try to outlast her," she added. "That was the game."
St. Mary's fought off a set point in the first set at 24-23, before swiping four of the final five points. Kaylyn Herold finished off the set with her second and third blocks of the night. She had a match-best seven stuffs.
Meanwhile, Roller started and ended the second frame with kills. The game-clincher, her fourth kill of the set, helped St. Mary's stave off a South comeback attempt. The Saints took advantage of 10 violations or errors by South in opening a 22-14 lead. Stroup kept the Bruins in the set, recording kills for eight of South's 14 points up to that point. South closed to 23-19 and forced a St. Mary's timeout, but St. Mary's senior Katelyn Schaffner ended a long rally with a kill from the left side and Roller followed to put the Saints ahead by two sets.
Schaffner had a team-high 14 kills and senior setter Allie Reisenauer posted 42 assists.
Heuer said the Saints displayed plenty of maturity in thwarting Stroup and refocusing after the power outage.
"They really have a lot of tenacity, which they haven't had until about the second half of this season," she said. "They understand that it's OK for the other team to get a kill on us, it's OK for them to be up a couple points. We'll still have our opportunity to make up those points and take the lead again."
Ryan Holmgren covers high school sports and general assignments. Follow him on Twitter @ryanholmgren.