Eagan's Kelly Madison dug out an Eden Prairie serve during the teams' Class 3A semifinal match Friday at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Photo: Bruce Bisping * email@example.com
Staring at a tight match against a team it had lost to once already, Eagan turned up the intensity to pull out a 25-21, 19-25, 25-17, 25-13 victory over Eden Prairie in the Class 3A semifinals.
Tied one set apiece, No. 1-seeded Eagan, which had lost to Eden Prairie (22-10) on Oct. 17, made key adjustments on offense to blow past the Eagles and into Saturday’s finals. It will be their first title match since 2003, when they won the last of their four previous state titles.
“We incorporated our [right-side hitters] and our middles into the offense so we weren’t so predictable,” Eagan coach Kathy Gillen-Millville said.
“Then the offense started coming a little more easily and gave us some momentum. And volleyball is such a momentous game. When you start scoring easier, it really changes the momentum.”
The Wildcats (29-2) opened up the court to allow outside hitter Taylr McNeil to hit with abandon. McNeil, who arguably hits harder than any player in the tournament, began to find cracks in Eden Prairie’s usually sound defense.
“She started tooling our blocks,” said Eden Prairie’s Abby Ihrke, referring to the technique of angling kill shots off blockers’ hands. “That just played havoc with our defense.”
McNeil finished with 24 kills while ninth-grade setter Brie Orr took advantage of the added opportunities and finished with 13 kills.
“I felt a little more intense in this match. I know we all want to win this,” McNeil said, holding her thumb and forefinger about an inch apart. “But this being my senior year, I think I want this just a little bit more than usual.”
Delano players celebrated their Class 2A semifinal victory over Osseo on Friday to advance to the championship game on Saturday. Photo: Bruce Bisping * firstname.lastname@example.org
The Delano Tigers must be feeling a lot of underdog love right now.
With the smallest enrollment of the 96 teams in Class 3A, Delano moved within one match of a state championship by defeating Osseo 25-9, 21-15, 25-15, 25-21 in the semifinals Friday at Xcel Energy Center.
“It’s definitely a motivating factor,” senior middle hitter Shelby Seurer said. “We’re here to prove we deserve to be here. Being the smallest school doesn’t mean anything.”
Delano’s student enrollment is 724, according to the Minnesota State High School League. Osseo has 1,674 students. Eagan, which will face Delano (30-3) in Saturday’s final, has an enrollment of 2,043.
“We’re the little guys in the big class,” Delano coach Rebecca Rue said. “You look at the enrollment numbers in the program and we’re a lot closer to the Class 2A teams. But the line has be drawn somewhere. We looked at it as something that, if we do it, will mean the world to us.”
Delano’s victory over Chaska, which spent much of the season ranked No. 1, in the Section 2 championship match provided confidence that the Tigers carried into the state tournament.
“After Chaska, we started to finally believe that we are a good team and can beat anyone,” libero Elle Heinonen said.
After the way the Tigers dismantled Osseo, it’s impossible to say they don’t belong with big schools.
Passing with precision and using a three-player attack at the net, Delano started strong with a 25-9 first set victory. Osseo (29-2) bounced back to win the second set, but Delano responded by playing to Osseo’s weaknesses and swept the final two sets.
Seurer led the Tigers with 18 kills and added 14 digs. Alex Wittinger had 14 kills and Bria Barfnecht had 11.
“I can’t believe it but I believe it because we’re here,” Heinonen said. “It’s crazy.”