Eden Prairie's Aulora Campbell spiked the ball past the Roseville defense in Thursday's state quarterfinal match at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Photo: Bruce Bisping * firstname.lastname@example.org
It doesn’t happen often, but Eden Prairie is playing the role of underdog. So far, it fits very well.
The Eagles, despite losing 10 seniors from their 2012 Class 3A runners-up, outlasted Roseville 22-25, 25-16, 25-20, 26-24 to advance to Friday’s semifinals.
“I think of the three teams I’ve coached in the tournament, this is my favorite,” said coach Chad Becker, who also led the Eagles to the 2011 state championship. “Not because they’re doing anything better than the other teams but because of how far they’ve come. We don’t have any big names to rely on. I doubt anyone outside of Eden Prairie would have thought we had a chance to make the final four. It’s very gratifying.”
Eden Prairie, the No. 4 seed, dropped the first set to No. 5-seeded Roseville 25-22. Becker made a defensive adjustment, moving around a block, and emphasized the need to pick their spots to attack.
“We had to score points when [Monica Burich] was in the back row,” Becker said. “She’s such a force at the net that we had to take advantage when we could.”
Eden Prairie won the final three sets, including a fourth-set rally in which it turned a 23-19 deficit into a 26-24 victory.
The Eagles were led by Aulora Campbell’s 20 kills and 16 kills and 21 digs from Abby Irhke, who played despite a severely sprained left ankle.
“It feels really good to be the underdog for once,” said Ihrke. “We’ll have to carry that over into our match against Eagan. The great thing is, this is a whole team effort. You can put anyone in and they can do the job.”
Eagan's Taylr McNeil spiked the ball against the Moorhead defense in Thursday's state quarterfinal match at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Photo: Bruce Bisping * email@example.com
After a stressful-but-successful Section 3 championship match victory over Lakeville North, Eagan’s first state volleyball tournament match, a 25-13, 25-16, 25-14 victory over Moorhead, was a relative breeze.
The No. 1-seeded Wildcats controlled every facet of the match, holding the Spuds to a .047 kill percentage (.300 is considered exceptional) and blocking 14 Moorhead kill attempts.
Taylr McNeil had 19 kills and senior defensive specialist Kelly Madison had 13 digs for Eagan.
“The section final was more nerve-wracking,” Madison said. “We’re pretty confident right now. We were excited to come out in our first appearance and show what we were capable of.”
Alex Wittinger, Delano’s 6-foot-1 outside hitter, looked at the stats from their 25-18, 25-14, 25-14 victory Thursday over Grand Rapids and knew immediately where to give credit.
“When we have good hitting stats like that, it means we were getting great passing,” Wittinger said. “It means players like Elle [Heinonen] and Tori [Hanson] and Kristin [Kreklow] are giving us great passes to work with.”
Despite beating Chaska to earn their state tournament bid and the No. 3 seed, Wittinger, who had 9 kills, said opponents still don’t know what to make of her team.
“Nobody knows who we are,” she said. “Delano? Who’s that? But we feel like we can play with anybody.”
Osseo's Shiah Sanders went high to hit the ball against Rochester Mayo in the teams' state quarterfinal match at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Photo: Bruce Bisping * firstname.lastname@example.org
There was a time not long ago when Osseo junior Shiah Sanders wasn’t sure how she felt about high school volleyball.
“In ninth grade, I’ll admit I was afraid of the seniors,” she said. “I wanted to have the J.O. volleyball season start over.”
After leading Osseo to a 27-25, 25-19, 25-18 victory over Rochester Mayo Thursday, Sanders admitted she’s since had a change of heart.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been this confident,” said Sanders, who led the No. 2-seeded Orioles with 15 kills. “This was a lot of fun. I love this team just as much as I love my J.O. team.”
Osseo coach Bill Quan said that the Orioles' late-season success can largely be tied to the improvement of the 5-11 outside hitter.
“She’s stepped up for us,” Quan said. “She’s gotten stronger and has really become a weapon.”