LA CROSSE, Wis. The University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Invitational turned out to be quite the learning experience for Saint Mary's University volleyball coach Mike Lester.
He learned what it takes to be considered among the best teams in the nation.
He learned what it's going to take to compete in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
And he learned just what his Cardinal team is made of.
"This tournament was definitely a learning experience for me and for our team," Lester said Saturday, after his team went 1-1 for the second straight day, falling to rival St. Olaf 3-2, before rebounding with a convincing 3-0 win over North Central. "And to be honest, I think we all learned a lot."
On Friday, Lester learned his Cardinals have a ways to go if they are going to be among the nation's elite, as they were blanked by 14th-ranked UW-L.
And on Saturday, the SMU coach and his team learned just how tough the MIAC is going to be, as they dropped a heartbreaking, five-game marathon to St. Olaf a team that was picked by the conference coaches to finish ninth in the MIAC.
"We did not play exceptionally well in either match on Friday, but I thought we played much better (on Saturday). The effort and performance was 100 times better," said Lester. "We found out (on Friday) that we are probably a ways away from the teams in the top tier in the country, but I also think we proved that we are going to scratch and claw and battle no matter who we play.
"St. Olaf is a much better team than people give them credit for, and I think more than anything, that (Olaf) match shows just how competitive our conference is going to be it's going to be a dogfight every match."
Megan Roesler (St. Paul, Minn.) and Lisa Engdahl (North Branch, Minn.) led the Cardinals' offensive attack against the Oles, as Roesler hammered 16 kills and hit .571, while Engdahl chipped in 14 kills. Freshman Theresa Perrini (Fairway, Kan.) the Cardinals' lone representative on the all-tournament team chipped in 35 digs, while Michelle Mino (Austin, Minn.) dished out 46 assists.
Against North Central, Roesler was again SMU's top offensive weapon, collecting 13 kills and adding six blocks. Amy Benz (Oshkosh, Wis.) added eight kills and Desiree Larson (Blaine, Minn.) tallied 20 digs.
"Overall, I'm very pleased with our performance," said Lester, whose team returns to action Tuesday, traveling to Luther, before opening its home season next weekend in the SMU Sugar Loaf Classic. "We were able to get a lot of people valuable playing experience, and more than anything, we learned a little bit about what type of a team we have.
"Now our goal is to take what we learned and use it to help us get better every day."