(left to right) Eden Prairie's Sarah Wilhite and Camille Schultz celebrate the Eagles Class 3A championship win over Lakeville North on 11/12/11.
The only feeling better than her match-winning kill for Eden Prairie in Saturday's Class 3A state championship volleyball match was the 10-second embrace Sarah Wilhite shared with Lakeville North's Alyssa Goehner afterward.
A symbolic gesture of mutual appreciation dotted with tears.
Close friends who on Sunday morning will try out for the same Northern Lights club team, the two duked it out in grand fashion at Xcel Energy Center, issuing back-and-forth blows in the Eagles' epic 22-25, 25-21, 19-25, 25-18, 22-20 victory.
They traded kills to open the match, and their seemingly endless attacks for the next two hours stole the show.
In the end, Wilhite's 33rd kill was the most spectacular. It came on a right-handed slam from the left side of the net that whisked off a Panthers defender and sailed out of play to the black curtain hung at the center of the arena.
It sealed Eden Prairie's first state championship and ended a Class 3A title match that went to five sets for the first time since Chaska defeated Marshall in 2005.
No team had played to more than 16 points in a fifth set since the MSHSL went to rally scoring in 2003.
"It's hard to play against someone like [Goehner], but when it comes down to it you just want to win," Wilhite said. "It was brave of her to come over here, because I know how hard it must be for her to lose. She's a great opponent."
Both teams came into the match ready for five sets.
"When you've got Sarah Wilhite on the other side, things will go down," said Goehner, who finished with a match-high 34 kills and had 38 digs.
"She's just a great all-around player. Always there. She's one of those players you have to watch out for because she's a go-getter."
Eden Prairie (27-6), the No. 4 seed in the tournament, led by as many as seven points in the first set. It was the largest cushion either team enjoyed until an Eagles eruption in the fourth set that saw them lead by as many as nine.
Three consecutive service aces by Abby Monson got the defending state champion Panthers (27-6) back into the opening set, and from there it was an all-out battle.
Goehner and Wilhite were at the center of it, not only pounding kills but coming up with sprawling plays on defense.
There were 32 tie scores -- seven in the fifth set alone -- and 14 lead changes.
"I don't think either team really deserved to lose this match; we were lucky to come out ahead," Eden Prairie coach Chad Becker said. "We were never in a situation of comfort. We had to expect it to go five."
In the deciding set, Wilhite had six of the team's 10 kills. She finished with 80 kills in the three-match tournament.
"She's just a fantastic athlete," Becker said.