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Unseeded North St. Paul sings, dances into the semis; Wayzata, Minnetonka, Eagan advance

By JIM PAULSEN, Star Tribune, 11/07/19, 1:45PM CST


The surprising Polars get the No. 2 seed Trojans on Friday while the Skippers play the always-strong Wildcats.

North St. Paul outside hitter Dani Steckler (3) hit over the net as Lakeville North middle hitter Ella Thompson (4) attempted a block. Photo: Shari L. Gross • shari.gross@startribune.com

There were no nerves. None that you could tell, anyway.

North St. Paul showed no stage fright on its first venture into the state tournament spotlight, sweeping a three-set victory from No. 3-seeded Lakeville North 25-21, 25-22, 25-19.

Where nerves were expected, confidence shown through. Instead of jitters, there was jubilation. The Polars played the match with a brash bounciness that was evident in their play.

“A lot of us before today were very anxious,” said senior hitter Lauren Stenman, who led the team with 23 kills, many of them the no-doubt variety. “We just wanted to play today exactly the way we did in the section final against Stillwater.”

A match they also won, emphatically.

Coach Stephanie Blanda has nurtured the Polars’ fun-loving, no-regrets style. They sing and they dance and they enjoy their time together, on and off the court. They brought every bit of that energy to Thursday’s match.

Minnetonka players Abby Stanwood (7), Olivia Koeppen (12), Skyler Germann (10) and Macy Osenga (1) all watched the ball after it hit the court following a Moorhead shot. Photo: Shari L. Gross • shari.gross@startribune.com

Minnetonka responds, responds and responds

It’s not a game-plan Minnetonka coach Karl Katzenberger would draw up, but for his Skippers, a little adversity proved exactly the ingredient they needed.

The Skippers lost the first set of their quarterfinals match to Moorhead and trailed late each of the ensuing three sets only to pull out victories in each en route to a 21-25, 26-24, 28-26, 25-23 triumph.

“They respond to being backed into a corner,” Katzenberger said.

“Once we start getting down, it’s definitely a motivator for our team,” senior outside hitter Skyler Germann said. “We have players that come in with intensity and they just rev it up for the team.”

The last time the Skippers were in the tournament was 1976, a drought that may have contributed to their first-set lull. They trailed 23-20 in the second set, but strong front-row play from Germann and Kali Engeman, who had two kills and a block, led to a 26-24 victory.

Wayzata middle hitter Lily Emlong (24) smiled as teammate Ella Voegele (4) dug a ball. Photo: Shari L. Gross ¥ shari.gross@startribune.com

Second-seeded Trojans hitting their stride

Wayzata coach Scott Jackson thought his team played its best match of the season in its Section 5 championship victory over St. Michael-Albertville.

And, he added, the Trojans had their best practice of the year Wednesday. The rest of the Class 3A volleyball field can now say they’ve been put on notice.

The No. 2-seeded Trojans showed just how good they can be with a 25-14, 25-23, 25-16 victory over Elk River.

“This does not feel at all like we are finishing,” Jackson said. “It feels like we’re climbing. So that’s a lot of fun.”

Eagan middle hitter Kendal Kemp (16) hit a shot at the net against St. Louis Park's Raegan Alexander (14). Photo: Shari L. Gross • shari.gross@startribune.com

Wildcats too much for first-time entrant Orioles

With Eagan making its seventh consecutive state tournament appearance and with three Class 3A championships in tow, expectations follow the team wherever it goes.

And usually, the Wildcats live up to them, as they did Thursday in their 25-16, 25-12, 25-16 victory over St. Louis Park in the Class 3A quarterfinals at Xcel Energy Center.

But here’s the big news: The Wildcats, despite their gaudy reputation, get tight and nervous in big situations, just like everybody else.

“I thought we were tight,” Eagan coach Kathy Gillen said. “For some reason, we were tight and a little bit nervous.”

The Wildcats know that their reputation precedes them wherever they go. Their response?

“Everybody knows Eagan volleyball and we have a high reputation,” senior Christine Jurgens said. “We just have to try to put it out of our heads.”

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