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Eagan celebrated after winning the 3AAA sectional finals. (KYNDELL HARKNESS/STAR TRIBUNE)
After two years of disappointment, Eagan finally did what it set out to do.
The Wildcats had lost to Lakeville North in the Class 3A, Section 3 final in each of the past two years. Executing their game plan to near perfection, they turned the tables on the defending 3A champions, winning 29-27, 25-22, 21-25, 25-20 Saturday at a packed Prior Lake High School gym.
“This is huge,” Eagan coach Kathy Gillen-Melville said. “We talk a lot about game plans and what we want to do, and tonight we did it better than we have all season.”
Led by senior outside hitter Taylr McNeil, Eagan neutralized Lakeville North’s stellar outside hitter Alyssa Goehner, moving the 2012 Metro Player of the Year around and forcing her to play a more defensive role.
The powerful McNeil, who played for Lakeville North’s section champions as a freshman in 2010 before moving to Eagan, played her best when it mattered most. She had 10 kills in the fourth set, including four down the stretch.
“It feels great to get back to the state tournament,” she said. “It was tougher than I thought it would be.”
Delano 3, Chaska 2: No. 2 seed Delano (28-3) defeated No. 1 seed Chaska (26-3) in the Class 3A, Section 2 championships at Chanhassen.
The Tigers streaked to an early two-set lead at 25-22 and 25-23. The Hawks made a comeback with 25-12 and 25-18 victories to tie, but Delano finished what it started in the fifth set at 15-11.
“These girls just really wanted it,” Delano coach Rebecca Rue said.
Rue said her team has been underdogs all season, but it used that label to its advantage.
“We’re the 96th team out of 96 for Class 3A,” Rue said. “We just went with that all season knowing we can do it.”
Unlike their opponents, the Hawks were clear favorites. And while the ending was bittersweet, assistant coach Chuck Zemek said Chaska was still proud of its season.
“They never gave up,” Zemek said. “They kept pushing and … kept trying to find different things. And Delano just found a way to stop us.”
Rue said her seniors were key, especially senior Shelby Seurer. The Tigers middle hitter led her team’s offense and stumped Chaska’s defense.
Seurer said she “came in just wanting it so bad.” That fervor will carry over into the first round of the state tournament at Xcel Energy Center on Thursday.
“I want to win it now,” Seurer said. “We just beat one of the best teams in the state. We go into the state tournament hungry.”
Eden Prairie 3, Wayzata 1: The Eagles, with a mostly different roster from their 2012 Class 3A runner-up team, advanced to the state tournament once again with a 25-18, 25-12, 26-28, 27-25 victory over Wayzata in the Section 6 championship match at Benilde-St. Margaret’s.
Ten seniors graduated from their 2012 team. Most expected the Eagles to be good this season — it is Eden Prairie, after all — but few outside of the team thought they would be good enough to repeat as section champions.
“I knew the type of players we had coming up,” said coach Chad Becker. “The talent is there.”
Eden Prairie jumped out to a two-set lead on their Lake Conference rivals Saturday, using the precise setting of junior Elizabeth Mohr and an athletic front line led by senior Emma Teal and junior Abby Ihrke.
Wayzata, hitting its stride late in the season despite being seeded No. 5 in the section, fought back in the third set. The fourth set went back and forth, but Eden Prairie even survived the loss of Ihrke to an ankle injury midway through the set to pull out a 27-25 victory.
“I’m so proud of this team,” said Ihrke, her right ankle wrapped in ice. “If one person goes down, another steps in. I knew we could do it.”